Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Holy Gun

No sooner did the Pennsylvania Supreme Court give the OK in mid-December for the Grand Jury to continue its investigation of possible ties to organized crime by Poconos casino owner Louis DeNaples, see DeNaples probe can continue, than the Grand Jury issued its first indictment -- of a Catholic Priest who is closely associated with DeNaples.

According to the Pocono Record, DeNaples' priest charged with perjury for grand jury testimony:

A Roman Catholic priest was arrested on perjury charges Wednesday, accused of lying about his relationship with a mobster in testimony to a grand jury investigating a casino owner's possible ties to organized crime.

The Rev. Joseph F. Sica, 52, was arrested outside his home in Scranton on Wednesday morning and taken to Harrisburg, where he was released on $20,000 unsecured bail after a brief court hearing.

Sica is a friend of Louis DeNaples, who owns the Mount Airy Casino Resort in Swiftwater. He has accompanied DeNaples during public appearances, most recently at the grand opening of Mount Airy in October.

The priest's arrest is the first to result from the grand jury probe, which is focused on whether DeNaples misled the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board when he said he had no connections to organized crime.

The Philadelphia Inquirer describes the perjury charges against Father Sica, Priest charged in slots probe:

The perjury charge stems from Sica's testimony to the grand jury Aug. 29. He told the panel, according to court papers, that he had not had a personal relationship with Bufalino outside a chance meeting more than two decades earlier.

The grand jury, however, was presented with photographs and letters that appeared to contradict that.

A photo taken decades ago at a party celebrating Sica's ordination as a priest shows him with Bufalino and Bufalino's wife, according to the grand jury.

A note with the keepsake picture reads: "Dear Russ & Carrie - Words cannot express my thankfulness to both of you! You have done a lot for me and you mean a lot to me. Rest assured of my continued love and prayers. Love Joe."

The grand jury report also said Sica had written a letter in 1982 to Ginny Thornburgh, wife of then-Gov. Richard Thornburgh, seeking her help in getting Bufalino out of jail.

In the letter, Sica called Bufalino his friend and said the federal government had set up Bufalino for a crime he did not commit, and that Bufalino had been wrongly labeled a Mafia figure in the media.

Another photo shows Sica arm in arm with Bufalino at a table with William D'Elia, another reputed mob leader from Northeastern Pennsylvania. No date was provided.

See also, DeNaples' priest arrested, in which the Allentown Morning Call notes that Sica thanked the DeNaples Family in an acknowledgment in a 2003 book he wrote, ''Embracing Change: 10 Ways to Grow Emotionally and Spiritually.''

So, the issue is whether Father "knew" Bufalino. I guess it's another one of those tricky word situations -- it depends on the meaning of what "know" is. Who knows, perhaps he was using the word "know" in the biblical sense, so he could honestly say he didn't know him.

The Inky story also mentions the amazing fact that "Sica owns a handgun, registered legally within the last year." As Francis Chardo, first assistant Dauphin County district attorney put it:
A priest with a gun, Chardo told the court, "struck me as odd."
Maybe when he prays, the refrain is: In the name of the Father, the Son & the Holy Gun???

As for Russell Bufalino -- he may have died 14 years ago, but he still is a major figure in Scranton's claim to fame. He is reputed to be one of the major mafia figures in the country during his time. As I mentioned in The Electric City: "Scranton was home to a major mafia Don, Russell Bufalino, who was linked to the FBI plot to assassinate Fidel Castro, and the disappearance of former Teamster President Jimmy Hoffa." His legendary status was the subject of reminiscence and discussion over the holidays with family members. I also mentioned Bufalino in previous posts on the DeNaples matter, What are the Odds on this? and The Electric Connection. As I said then:

I must admit that I know several of the locals mentioned in the various stories, but I've been away from Scranton for much too long to know the real scoop about DeNaples. Russell Bufalino was the head of the Bufalino family when I lived there and I remember being shocked to read a story in Time Magazine in the early '70s, listing him as one of the top Mafia heads in the country -- living in little old Scranton (or even smaller Old Forge).

For example, he was the "godfather" of the guy that my best friend in high school dated. I didn't know Bufalino (in any sense) other than by reputation. However, my friend & I used to joke about that affiliation and I always warned her to go easy on the break-up, when it happened. She was a Greek goddess & a heart breaker, so it was only a matter of time.

Both the Inquirer and Morning Call also had side pieces on Bufalino. The Morning Call, in Bufalino known as powerful mob leader, notes:
He was known by associates as the ''quiet Don,'' a simple, reserved man who lived in a modest home near Scranton.

But a 1960s U.S. Senate committee described Russell Bufalino, boss of the northeastern Pennsylvania crime family that bore his name, as ''one of the most ruthless and powerful leaders of the Mafia in the United States.''

''He had a lot more clout than would have been reflected on the surface,'' said Nick Akerman, a former U.S. attorney in New York who successfully prosecuted Bufalino in 1982 on a charge he conspired to kill a mob witness.

* * * *
His ascent to the top of the Mafia leadership began after a 1957 meeting in Apalachin, N.Y., where more than 100 mobsters from throughout the country convened for a summit that was raided by the FBI and local police.

''[Bufalino] was there and claimed he was selling soda and didn't know what was going on,'' Akerman said.

According to a 1975 Time magazine story, Bufalino was recruited by the CIA in 1961 to help spy on Cuba in preparation for the failed Bay of Pigs invasion.

* * * *
In his 2004 book, ''I Heard You Paint Houses,'' author Charles Brandt wrote it was Bufalino who gave the order to kill Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa in 1975.

Brandt, a former prosecutor and chief deputy attorney general in Delaware, wrote the book based on interviews with Frank Sheeran, a longtime Teamsters official from Philadelphia and Hoffa aide who claimed to have carried out Bufalino's order by shooting Hoffa.

Law enforcement officials long suspected Sheeran of taking part in Hoffa's disappearance.

''There's no question Sheeran thought Bufalino was the most powerful Mafia leader in the country,'' Brandt said. ''The [Mafia] wouldn't do anything of any importance without Bufalino's permission, so once approval was given to kill Hoffa, it was given to Bufalino to do because they knew it would be done appropriately and intelligently and he would not bring publicity on himself.''

Bufalino was also a powerful player within the Teamsters union, Brandt said, especially the Central States pension fund, which was known as the ''mob's bank.'' The Central States fund was used to finance construction of Las Vegas casinos and other projects.

''Bufalino owned a curtain store near Scranton, and you could go in there and buy curtains,'' Brandt said, ''or get a loan to build a casino in Las Vegas.''
Likewise, in Priest's case tied to notorious figure, the Inquirer notes:
Bufalino once was regarded as Pennsylvania's most powerful mobster. His criminal activities stretched back to the 1940s, when he began working for mob-run coal and garment companies.

During the 1970s, two books made sensational allegations that Bufalino ordered the killing of Jimmy Hoffa, who disappeared in 1975. Hoffa's remains have not been found, and no one has been charged.

In another book, which came out in 2004, Frank Sheeran, a former Wilmington Teamsters boss and Hoffa associate, contended he had been involved with Bufalino in a hit on Hoffa. Sheeran's lawyer wrote the book after the teamster's death.

* * * *

The Federal Bureau of Narcotics at the time called him "one of the most ruthless and powerful leaders of the Mafia in the United States."

In November 1957, Bufalino was said to have organized one of the biggest gatherings of mob bosses in the United States. The notoriety surrounding the raided meeting at Barbara's home in Apalachin, N.Y., made Bufalino a national crime figure.

Those in attendance included James Osticco. Osticco was later convicted of trying to fix the conspiracy trial of DeNaples, who was accused of submitting bogus bills to the federal government for providing heavy equipment for the cleanup of Hurricane Agnes in 1972. DeNaples later pleaded no contest and was convicted of one count. Sica, the priest, is described as a friend of DeNaples' and an adviser to him.

Of course, the various articles have observed that the Scranton Diocese has tried to distance itself from the whole mess. Yet, DeNaples and Sica weren't the only close pair. As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, DeNaples is very involved in the Church, including the University of Scranton and Scranton Prep, two local Jesuit schools.

All in all, this is much better than the run of the mill priest abusing altar boy story that we're used to hearing from the Catholic Church. And the Church and Mob mix certainly has it all over the problems with the separation of Church and State that we see so much of these days with our political leaders.

A final note: as usual, the case, which got big play in various papers across the state, was barely mentioned in the Scranton Times. See Scranton priest indicted for perjury.

(Via A Big Fat Slob, Smoke, Meet Fire: State Charges DeNaples Priest with Perjury, where I first read the latest on this).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

KeeP up Posted Since theres a coverup in scranton where denaples is considered a saint!!
cant wait 2 see him go down