Pennsylvania Lawmaker Pleads Not Guilty in Illegal Gambling Case
March 10, 2016
Democratic Rep. Marc J. Gergely allegedly aided a man named Ronald “Porky” Melocchi – a friend of the legislator’s family – to set up illegal poker machines in local businesses.
Pennsylvania authorities opened an investigation on Melocchi three years ago, and served 70 warrants during what was dubbed “Operation Pork Chop.” The raids turned up evidence that high-ranking state officials had been involved in Melocchi’s scheme, including a City Councilman and a police chief. A total of 15 individuals were charged by the Atty. Gen.’s office in September 2013 in conjunction with the illegal enterprise, and more than 330 gaming machines were seized.
After Melocchi was eventually convicted, authorities turned their attention to Rep. Gergely. Melocchi was fond of dropping the lawmaker’s name when trying to convince business owners to allow him to set up poker machines in their shops. He even referred to Gergely as his “Super PAC.” In return, the legislator received political donations from Melocchi.
In 2012 a woman showed up at Gergely’s office and claimed that her husband had lost his life savings playing on illegal poker machines. After the woman left, Gergely picked up the phone and called Melocchi to warn him about the complaint.
“I just want to take care of ya,” Gergely told Melocchi. “She obviously has no idea that we have a connection.”
Unfortunately for both men, the woman was an undercover agent, and their phone conversation had been recorded.
Gergely now stands charged with felony counts of corrupt organizations and dealing in proceeds of illegal activity, along with misdemeanor offenses involving gambling and election law.
The lawmaker has stepped down from his position as chairman of the Labor and Industry Committee in the House. He pleaded not guilty today at his arraignment in Pittsburgh.
“This is an unfortunate case in which the players traded political capital and favors to advance their own agendas and illicit business,” said Attorney General Kathleen Kane. “The evidence clearly shows that Mr. Melocchi relied heavily on his relationships -—including with Mr. Gergely — to conduct his illegal business.”
The issue of allowing businesses to operate gambling machines has been a contentious subject in the state. As Pennsylvania faces a budget crisis, lawmakers are toying with the idea of legalizing such machines in order to reap badly needed tax revenue.
Casinos, however, are opposed to the plan and believe that allowing video poker inside regular businesses will cannibalize their own profits.