"What's black and white and read all over?"

Friday, March 07, 2008
Posted 3:05 AM by

Somebody else may be lying in Slotsylvania...

... And I don't think it's the state police commander.

Former Gaming Control Board Chairman Tad Decker (left) and State Police Commissioner Jeff Miller (right)Former Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board chairman Thomas A. "Tad" Decker is once again telling newspapers that his board did not know slots parlor applicant Louis DeNaples was lying to them before they issued him a license.

"We didn't send a perjury referral," Decker told Robert Swift, the Scranton Times-Tribune's Harrisburg reporter on Wednesday. "This is just flat out not true."

Decker may sound adamant in the newspaper, but his comments are the opposite of what State Police Commissioner Jeffrey B. Miller testified to this week during back-to-back hearings at the Capitol.

Miller, a colonel, testified Tuesday that at least some of the state's seven Gaming Board members knew the state police were investigating DeNaples for lying to them, but they publicly voted unanimously to award the politically-connected Dunmore billionaire a slots parlor license anyway on Dec. 20, 2006.

DeNaples was indicted by a Dauphin County grand jury on Jan. 30 for four perjury charges alleging he lied to the gaming board about his ties to two reputed mob bosses and two corrupt Philadelphia political fixers. He had denied any wrongdoing.

To be fair, Miller apparently used the word "apparently" in his testimony, according to a report by Brad Bumsted, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's capitol reporter.

Even with that slight hesitation, though, Miller said under oath that the board should have had enough warning flags to delay a decision on DeNaples' license - a conclusion I completely agree with.

I'll even go Miller a step further, to say if David Kwait and Thomas Sturgeon, the gaming regulators' privately-hired investigators, didn't tell their bosses that they tipped the state police to DeNaples' alleged perjury, then the PGCB really is an out-of-control board.

"The board should have known because the BIE (the gaming board's own privately hired Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement) did know, because they were the ones who referred it to us in the first place," Miller told senators.

However, Gaming Board member Raymond S. Angeli, the president of Lackawanna College in Scranton, told the Times-Tribune Wednesday he heard nothing about BIE criminal referrals or a state police perjury probe during the closed door hearings about DeNaples' license application.

"I don't ever remember anyone referring anything to us that would have been a concern," Angeli said. "They (BIE) gave us no indication they were referring anything to anybody at the time of licensure."

But they appear to have done just that.

In addition to tipping the state police and Central Pennsylvania U.S. Attorney Tom Marino (who now works for DeNaples) to the possible perjury, Miller testified that Kwait and Sturgeon also told troopers that DeNaples bought 30 tractor-trailers flooded by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans for $180,000, and then allegedly sold at least one for illegal use on the open road for $75,000 rather than scrapping it. That investigation is still ongoing.

Decker has said the board opted to dismiss the truck allegation during closed door negotiations. The board referred the matter in fall 2006 to the Department of State, which later reported it "didn't have any proof there was anything illegal."

In a letter to the editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer on Feb. 14, Decker blamed the state police for failing to turn over a transcript of an FBI wiretap of DeNaples before he and the others unanimously approved his license. He also claimed it was the wiretap that triggered the perjury investigation.

Decker had an opportunity to clarify DeNaples' relationship with reputed mob boss Billy D'Elia by simply subpoenaeing D'Elia before the vote, but failed to do it.

Yet, he told the Philadelphia Daily News on Aug. 1, 2007, "We didn't find one scintilla of evidence that DeNaples had any issues."

On Tuesday, Miller testified in a 2008-09 budget hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee, "Frankly, it is obvious even (former) chairman Tad Decker knew of the ongoing investigation."

Miller quoted from a letter Decker sent him on Dec. 18, 2006, which stated: "Your office may be in the possession of some important background information which may affect the suitability decision of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board with respect to an applicant for a (stand-alone casino)."

He then told lawmakers Decker "seemed to be in a hurry to grant that license (to DeNaples)."

Why would that be, I wonder?

Perhaps it's because Decker's old law firm, Cozen O'Connor, represents both DeNaples and HSP Gaming's SugarHouse Casino in Philly. Decker recused himself from SugarHouse's approval vote and O'Connor wasn't representing DeNaples during his application process. The firm was hired later to handle the financing of DeNaples' $400 million slots parlor. Meanwhile, Decker participated in all the PGCB deliberations and voted to approve DeNaples' license.

Decker was Cozen O'Connor's managing director before being hand-picked in 2004 to his $150,000 a year public post by his old college buddy, Gov. Ed Rendell. DeNaples contributed at least $115,000 toward Rendell's election campaign for governor in 2000, state records show.

Decker resigned as head of the gaming board on Aug. 8, 2007, and immediately returned to his old firm - this time as CEO and president.

Casino-Free Philadelphia, an anti-casino group, and, a good government Web site, subsequently questioned the cozy arrangement between Decker and Cozen O'Connor as a conflict of interest and a possible violation of Pennsylvania's Rules of Professional Conduct for licensed attorneys.

However, the state Supreme Court's Disciplinary Counsel dismissed their complaint. (By the way, supreme court Justice Ron Castille, a former Philly District Attorney, was Decker's law school roommate at the University of Virginia in 1971.)

Some of this may finally get sorted out soon at a hearing on the DeNaples licensing controversy before the state Senate Law and Justice Committee. The committee's chairman, Sen. John Rafferty (R-Chester) hopes to make the hearing a joint one with the Senate Community and Economic Development Committee chaired by Sen. Jane Earll, R-Erie.

Rafferty's committee has legislative oversight over the state police, while Earll's committee has oversight over the Gaming Board.

I won't hold my breath waiting, though. Earll has prevented any slots gambling reform legislation from coming to a vote in her committee for more than a year now.


For more about Louis DeNaples and to read my complete take on this long-predicted Slotsylvania snafu, click here.

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