Recorded calls link alleged gambling boss to Pa. lawmaker
September 7, 2013 8:00 AM
Ronald "Porky" Melocchi is accused of being a gambling kingpin.
By Jonathan D. Silver Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Last year investigators recorded a phone call in which state Rep. Marc J. Gergely told a suspected Mon Valley gambling kingpin that he would not pass along to authorities a complaint he had received about the man's video poker operations, according to a search warrant affidavit obtained Friday by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
That conversation was taped by agents with the state attorney general's office as part of a sweeping investigation of Ronald "Porky" Melocchi, who was charged this week with 57 gambling-related counts after a two-year probe.
Prompting the call was a letter a woman had dropped off at Mr. Gergely's office in White Oak. An aide to the Democratic legislator read Mr. Gergely the note from a woman named Barb, who complained that her husband had gambled away all their money on video poker machines run by someone named "Porky" in McKeesport.
"Mr. Gergely," the handwritten letter said, "I believe you are the only person I can trust. I don't know if I should call the FBI or the state police."
What Mr. Gergely apparently did not know was that agents from the state attorney general's office had penned the "fictitious" letter, according to the affidavit, and the woman who delivered it was an agent herself.
On Nov. 9, 2012 at 8:18 p.m., Mr. Gergely called Mr. Melocchi to tell him about the note, according to a transcript of the conversation included in the 134-page affidavit.
The affidavit, which detailed the lengthy investigation into Mr. Melocchi's affairs, was written by investigators to support nearly 70 search warrants executed as part of the probe dubbed "Operation Pork Chop" that began in 2010.
Those warrants led to the seizure of about $1.1 million in suspected ill-gotten gambling gains. Mr. Melocchi and 15 others -- including a McKeesport councilman and the Forward police chief -- were accused of being involved in a large-scale, million-dollar gambling ring operating throughout the Mon Valley.
Since Oct. 5, 2012, agents had been monitoring Mr. Melocchi's calls for 18 hours a day as they built their case against what investigators called Mr. Melocchi's "multi-layered illegal gambling enterprise."
Calling him "buddy" and "Pork," Mr. Gergely said he wanted Mr. Melocchi to see the letter because it named him, the affidavit said. Mr. Gergely told Mr. Melocchi that he would not pass it along to the authorities.
"Are they going to turn it in ... into [the state police's Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement]?" Mr. Melocchi asked.
"Who me? Not me," Mr. Gergely answered. "I just want to take care of ya. She obviously has no idea that we have a connection. You know what I mean ... Maybe you guys can identify ... who the guy is and get him stopped ... before something becomes a problem, OK?"
"Thank you very much, Marc," Mr. Melocchi said.
Repeated attempts to reach Mr. Gergely Friday night through his chief of staff, colleagues in Harrisburg, on his cell phone, and in person were not successful.
State campaign finance records show that Mr. Melocchi contributed $1,000 in November 2006 to Mr. Gergely's election.
The state attorney general's office, which spearheaded the gambling investigation, declined comment when contacted Friday evening, citing the pending charges against Mr. Melocchi and others.
Observers in the Mon Valley have wondered whether the dismantling of the alleged gambling ring had a different ultimate goal -- uncovering a connection between gambling and politics.
The mention of Mr. Gergely in the affidavit is the first official glimpse into that possible relationship, although it is difficult to give it context.
There is no preface in the affidavit to the segment dealing with Mr. Gergely, and there is no explanation for why the agents decided to create a letter to a state legislator from a phantom woman.
Elsewhere in the affidavit, recorded conversations show Mr. Melocchi speaking to several friends and mentioning the letter and the conversation with Mr. Gergely.
"Ah, Gergely just called me, ah, he said, 'Hey, Pork, we gotta get together next week.' I said, 'What's up?' He said some lady dropped a letter out at his office and his staff go[t] it," Mr. Melocchi said, according to the affidavit.
"So Mark said to me we'll get together, we'll get a hold of this lady [and] we'll get a hold of this guy and we'll see what it takes to quiet them down."
In another conversation, Mr. Melocchi is recorded discussing in October 2012 a picnic for Mr. Gergely and state Sen. Jim Brewster, D-McKeesport. The catering was to have been handled by Daniel K. Carr, a McKeesport councilman and owner of the Viking Lounge, who was charged in the round-up Thursday. Mr. Melocchi said he would pay for the food, the affidavit said.
Mr. Brewster, a former McKeesport mayor, said he did not recall Mr. Melocchi ever contributing to his campaigns. He recalled that Mr. Melocchi had been on McKeesport's recreation board but could not recall who nominated him for the position.
"As far as getting any campaign contributions directly from him, the answer to that would be 'No,' " Mr. Brewster said. "As far as a golf outing, yeah, they probably did from time to time go to a golf outing."
State Rep. William Kortz, D-Dravosburg, said he discovered two contributions from Mr. Melocchi -- $100 in 2008 and $300 in the last election cycle -- that he was returning.
"It was all done legally, but the bottom line is I'm sending it back in light of these allegations," Mr. Kortz said.
Both Mr. Brewster and Mr. Kortz said that neither they nor their staffs had spoken to state investigators or testified before the investigating grand jury that recommended charges against Mr. Melocchi and the others.
"This whole thing is just an unfortunate situation, but it is what it is," Mr. Brewster said.