Saturday, January 05, 2008

It's Father Sica, not Sicko

Every once in a while, there are those stories that you just can't let go (or, at least I can't).

When the tale combines elements of guns, the mob & money, intertwined with the dalliances of a "pious priest" -- from Scranton no less, what's not to like?

Based upon the number of articles in various papers in the region, I'm definitely not alone. As a follow up to the first part of the story of the gun-toting good father, The Holy Gun, there are several interesting revelations about Sica and the Grand Jury case looking into the dealings of Louis DeNaples.

First off, there are the pieces on the financial difficulties experienced by Father Sica, such as the one noted in the Allentown Morning Call, DeNaples' priest had deep debt. As a man of the cloth, Father didn't make much in salary to support his lifestyle, so he managed to accumulate a bit of debt, in excess of $200,000, which led to his eventually filing for bankruptcy in 1997. Most of the money (almost $150,000) was owed to a bank owned by his good friend, Louis DeNaples. Within a few weeks of filing, the case was dismissed and it's unclear what happened to the outstanding debt -- although I can certainly venture a guess who might have "taken care of it." See also, Rev lauded probed casino owner.

The Inquirer brings more bad news for Sica (and DeNaples) in Testimony contradicted priest, suggesting Bufalino successor William D'Elia may be cooperating with authorities:

The Dauphin County grand jury that indicted a Catholic priest in its investigation of Poconos casino mogul Louis DeNaples relied upon testimony from mob boss William "Big Billy" D'Elia, according to a criminal charge filed in the case.

* * * *

Unknown is what, if any, information D'Elia has provided to the grand jury about DeNaples, who is being investigated for allegedly misleading state gambling regulators about his possible connections to organized crime figures.

However, it doesn't bode well for Sica:

D'Elia was Bufalino's driver and later assumed the top spot in the small, but at one time influential, mob family.

Sica denied to the grand jury that he had a personal relationship with Bufalino, but letters he had written in the mobster's behalf, and photos at social events, appeared to indicate otherwise, prosecutors allege.

The presentment against Sica included this paragraph referring to D'Elia:

"The grand jury received credible evidence plainly demonstrating that Sica's testimony regarding the level of his relationship with Bufalino was intentionally false. William J. D'Elia was a close associate of Russell Bufalino. D'Elia was aware of a relationship between Sica and Bufalino. This relationship was far beyond the one described by Sica in his grand-jury testimony."

Even worse is what it may mean for DeNaples himself, who is the real target of the Grand Jury investigation. Just when his new Mount Airy casino is starting to roll in the money, some bad news may on the horizon, as the Pocono Record reports, Bad week for DeNaples, good week for Mt. Airy:
News of the casino's strong performance comes while DeNaples is under increasing pressure from a grand jury investigation into whether he lied about having organized crime ties during the slots licensing process.

* * * *

Recently released court documents show Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico in relentless pursuit of DeNaples, stating his grand jury investigation revealed substantial evidence that DeNaples lied in his testimony to the gaming commission. Marsico had also criticized the gaming commission's background investigations into slots applicants, and even expressed 'outrage' that DeNaples received a slots license from the state.
Hopefully, the good father is using his time wisely -- praying for both their souls (and necks too, while he's at it). Sounds like they may need it.

Of course, that may not be the portrait that you'd have if you only read the Scranton papers. Once again, the Scranton Times acts as apologist for DeNaples in providing the "all the news that's fit to print" on the story.

In fact, the story told by the Times piece, Latest twist raises stakes for DeNaples, makes it sound like a case for the Italian-American Anti-defamation league, noting:
With lifelong friend and confidant the Rev. Joseph F. Sica facing a felony charge of perjury, the stakes have never been higher for junk man turned billionaire Louis DeNaples.

A Dauphin County grand jury is examining whether Mr. DeNaples, owner of Mount Airy Casino Resort, lied to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board when he denied having ties to organized crime. Rumors of such ties have dogged the Dunmore businessman for decades.

In pursuing the case against Mr. DeNaples, the Dauphin County district attorney alleges the Catholic priest lied about his own relationship with the late mob boss Russell Bufalino.
In providing the background, the piece observes:
It is difficult to pinpoint when Mr. DeNaples’ name first became associated with organized crime.

He has never been charged with organized crime activity, but Italian-American businessmen, regardless of whom they associate with, traditionally have found the mafioso stereotype hard to shake. (Emphasis added)
That's right. It's that old "mafia label" that's affixed to all of us of Italian descent.

Of course, the article, with several significant omissions, neglects to tie DeNaples to Bufalino and other organized crime figures, such as D'Elia, in explaining how this poor (but unbelievably successful) businessman ended up being the generous billionaire that he is today. For example, it mentions that DeNaples pled no contest to fraud charges (after a mistrial) in the clean up from the 1972 Agnes Flood, but glosses over the jury tampering by James Osticco, a member of the Bufalino family. No connection between Osticco (and Bufalino) and DeNaples? Osticco decided to bribe the husband of a juror -- why? No one knows, but it sure couldn't have anything to do with DeNaples, right? And of course, suggesting that a businessman in the garbage and landfill industry might be mob related is just pure speculation, even if those businesses were notorious for being infiltrated by the mafia.

But what's ultimately important is this about DeNaples:
He is widely believed to be the richest man in the region. In a 2006 interview with The Times-Tribune, Mr. DeNaples said his assets total more than $1 billion.

With Mr. DeNaples’ success came widespread philanthropy, once very quiet and behind-the-scenes but now more public. In recent years, more edifices began to bear the DeNaples name at the campuses of two of his favorite beneficiaries, Scranton Preparatory School and the University of Scranton, both Jesuit institutions.

While shunning the limelight, Mr. DeNaples assumed prominent posts in the community as chairman and largest shareholder of First National Community Bank in Dunmore and chairman of the board of trustees at the University of Scranton. He also has held seats on the boards of directors of Allied Services, Community Medical Center Healthcare System and Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania.
So, who's going to complain about this man?

Likewise Father Sica. He's similarly sympathetic, according to the Times. In Charged priest known for skills as speaker, writer, it is noted that he's an all around fun guy:
Before hitting the front pages with his arrest on perjury charges in a grand jury probe, the Rev. Joseph F. Sica made a name for himself as a Catholic self-help author and motivational speaker who sometimes softened up a crowd with a dose of bada-bing ethnic humor.

Like the one about his father, who made a million bucks one year after arriving in America with only three words of English: stick ’em up.

Or the one about the doctor, the lawyer and the Italian bragging about their successful children. The Italian’s son made a fortune fixing things. Like basketball and football games.

* * * *

Combining the approaches of two celebrities he’s cited as personal friends — Italian-American comedian Pat Cooper and the late author and lecturer Leo Buscaglia — the Scranton priest built a career as a writer and speaker beyond his duties as a priest and hospital chaplain.
What's not to like?

(Cartoon via John Cole, The Times-Tribune)

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