Thursday, January 31, 2008

It's All Who You Know

I'm not a betting person, but a wager on this would have been a sure thing. Based upon the progress of the grand jury investigation into the owner of the Mount Airy Casino, the only surprise would have been if Louis DeNaples hadn't been indicted. For earlier posts on this case, see The Collection, The Holy Gun and The Electric Connection.

As the Scranton Times reports, Casino owner accused of perjury over mob links, license stripped:

The owner of a casino in the Pocono Mountains was charged with perjury Wednesday for allegedly lying about his relationships with organized crime figures to win a lucrative gambling license, and state regulators quickly barred him from the business.

Louis A. DeNaples, who opened Mount Airy Casino Resort in October, was charged with four counts of perjury after a seven-month investigation by a Dauphin County grand jury into what he told state gambling regulators during a prelicense background investigation. His company, Mount Airy No. 1 LLC, also was charged.

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For example, DeNaples told the gaming board he knew D'Elia only as a customer of his bank who occasionally patronized his auto-parts store. The grand jury said DeNaples had a "close relationship with D'Elia spanning many years," that DeNaples was a guest at D'Elia's daughter's 1999 wedding and that DeNaples' unlisted home telephone number was found in an address book that police seized from D'Elia's car in 2006.

DeNaples told the gaming board he knew Bufalino "only by name." In the 1970s, the panel said, Bufalino gave DeNaples three suits to wear to meetings after his home was struck by fire. DeNaples also gave Bufalino, a mechanic, two junked Fiats to work on, the grand jury said.

Bufalino served lengthy prison terms in the 1970s and '80s and died in 1994.

DeNaples told gaming board investigators that he could not clearly remember ever meeting Ali and that he had no interest in Ali's proposal to ship waste from Philadelphia to DeNaples' landfills. The grand jury, however, cited a telephone conversation the FBI recorded in 2002 in which DeNaples told Ali, "it would be business for us and we'd be very appreciative if we got it."

DeNaples also denied knowing or doing business with White. Other witnesses recalled a meeting in DeNaples' office in which he "ranted" about not being able to reach White by telephone after he gave him $50,000, according to the presentment.

White, a key fundraiser for Street, died of cancer in 2004 before he was to be tried as the central figure in a separate federal investigation of Philadelphia's "pay-to-play" culture. Ali, a prominent Muslim cleric in Philadelphia, is serving a seven-year prison term that stemmed from the probe.

However, I can't help but note the fact that DeNaples was charged with only four counts of perjury, which means that, despite the intense investigation, there wasn't that much of substance that was uncovered during the investigation. Not to say that perjury isn't serious, but the government obviously wasn't able to uncover anything that directly linked DeNaples to the mob, so they went for perjury.

And, despite protestations to the contrary, there is definitely a bit of a turf battle lurking behind this case. As the Pocono Record relates, Mount Airy owner DeNaples charged with perjury over mob-tie claims:

The gaming board, which vetted casino applications, awarded a license to DeNaples after investigating his background for organized crime ties, financial troubles and more.

Through Feeley, DeNaples has maintained that he has no ties to organized crime. His lawyers have accused Dauphin County prosecutors of misusing the grand jury as a fishing expedition and a tool in a turf war over who should regulate the state’s casinos.

More than two dozen witnesses, including D’Elia, appeared in front of the grand jury. D’Elia is in federal prison awaiting trial on charges of money laundering and conspiring to kill a prosecution witness. Dauphin County prosecutors brought the case to the grand jury last year after reviewing information given to them by state police investigators.

Once again, this is similar to the situation where the cover up is worse than the "crime." DeNaples is from the Scranton-area. It's the kind of place where everybody knows everybody. We're talking 2-3 degrees of Kevin Bacon (vs. 6 degrees) at most. Knowing D'Elia and Bufalino would not be unusual -- in fact, it would be surprising if DeNaples didn't know them. Just knowing them, however, doesn't mean he was involved in their mob activities. That requires a difference level of proof -- and knowledge. I'm just not sure that what is alleged here qualifies as that kind of knowledge.

The Philadelphia Inquirer, in Poconos casino owner charged, describes the alleged relationship between the parties:

DeNaples, according to the affidavit, also lied about his ties to the two top organized-crime figures in northeastern Pennsylvania.

He said he knew D'Elia as a customer of his auto-parts supply store and the bank he founded, but denied regularly meeting with him.

Prosecutors maintain that DeNaples and D'Elia were so close that years ago D'Elia visited DeNaples' father as he lay dying. Once his father died, DeNaples gave his father's rosary beads to D'Elia, the affidavit says.

It also said D'Elia frequently met with DeNaples at the auto-parts store, and arranged for the free printing of store brochures.

D'Elia, who is under indictment on charges of conspiracy to launder money among other offenses, testified before the grand jury.

DeNaples also was close to Bufalino, prosecutors allege in the 23-page affidavit.

When DeNaples' house burned down in the 1970s, Bufalino personally delivered three suits to DeNaples so he could wear them at meetings, the court papers said.

The papers also said that in the 1970s, DeNaples complimented Bufalino at a boxing match about a ring he was wearing, and Bufalino later gave it to him as a gift.

When asked about Bufalino, DeNaples told gaming board officials that he knew him only by name and what was printed about him in newspapers.

See also, Four perjury counts against DeNaples; slots license suspended. Certainly the allegations, if true, would support a charge of perjury, but they just don't prove that DeNaples was involved with the mob. Yet, it makes it understandable why he would try to distance himself from any affiliation with them, since no distinction seems to be made between "knowing them" and just knowing them.

What was worse to me was his response to questions about knowing the other individuals from Philly -- Ron White, John Street and Shamsud-din Ali:

During those sessions, he was pressed about his relationships with the late mob boss Russell Bufalino; Bufalino's protege, William D'Elia; the late Ron White, a chief fund-raiser for former Mayor John Street; and Shamsud-din Ali, the West Philadelphia imam who is serving time in connection with the City Hall corruption investigation.

When asked about Ali, DeNaples said that he did not know him, but that it was possible he had a "very, very short conversation" with Ali and "another black person" about bringing sludge from Philadelphia to landfills he owns in the Scranton region.

Shown a picture of Ali, DeNaples said he could not identify him because "to me, black people all look alike."

But prosecutors allege that DeNaples not only had met with Ali - who later testified before the grand jury - but also had extensive phone conversations with him. (Emphasis added)

Does that bring back memories of Scranton -- except that I had thought those views had long ago receded into the past.

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