Pennsylvania lawmaker Gergely charged with gambling, corruption
March 1, 2016 10:20 AM
Online court records show that a warrant for Mr. Gergely's arrest was filed Thursday with the West Deer office of District Judge Tom Swan, but the legislator is not yet in custody.
By Bill Schackner and Andrew Goldstein / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Marc J. Gergely, a Democratic state representative from White Oak, linked to a convicted video gambling kingpin, is expected to turn himself in to authorities Wednesday to face various criminal charges relating to corrupt organizations and gambling devices stemming from a grand jury investigation.
In response to the charges, House Democratic leader Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont, announced this afternoon that, per House rules, Mr. Gergely has stepped aside as chairman of the Labor and Industry Committee. He is not required to resign his House seat.
Mr. Gergely, 46, could not be reached for comment. His attorney did not immediately return a call this morning. At the state Capitol this morning, the door to Mr. Gergely’s office was closed, and the desk in front was unattended.
As first reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, a warrant for Mr. Gergely’s arrest was filed Thursday with the West Deer office of District Judge Tom Swan on felony counts of corrupt organizations and dealing in the proceeds of illegal activity, as well as misdemeanor counts involving gambling and election law. The charges were the result of a joint investigation conducted by the Office of Attorney General and the Pennsylvania State Police.
The affidavit supporting the charges states that Mr. Gergely used his political influence to help Ronald “Porky” Melocchi, a longtime friend of the legislator’s father, get video poker machines into various bars and other establishments as part of his million-dollar operation.
“This is an unfortunate case in which the players traded political capital and favors to advance their own agendas and illicit business,” Attorney General Kathleen Kane said in a prepared statement released this morning. ”The evidence clearly shows that Mr. Melocchi relied heavily on his relationships -—including with Mr. Gergely — to conduct his illegal business.”
The six charges against Mr. Gergely stem from alleged actions on March 1, 2011, which is listed as the “offense date,” according to a public online court docket.
Ms. Kane said the investigation is ongoing and additional charges are expected.
“This is surprising and disconcerting,” Mr. Dermody said. “I want to know more about what’s alleged to have taken place. Marc Gergely is a longtime member of the House, and I know him to be a strong voice for improving Pennsylvania’s schools and the lives of working people.”
Mr. Gergely found himself in the news during the three-year probe of Melocchi, which spawned the execution of nearly 70 search warrants as part of what became known as “Operation Pork Chop” starting in 2010.
Melocchi and 15 other individuals, including a McKeesport councilman and the Forward police chief, were criminally charged in September 2013 by the attorney general’s office in connection with illegal video gambling devices in bars, restaurants and other businesses in the McKeesport area. Law enforcement officials seized more than 330 video gambling machines during the investigation, according to the attorney general. Illegal lotteries and sports betting also were also investigated.
Melocchi was later convicted.
Melocchi came to refer to Gergely as part of his “Super PAC,” and used his connection to Gergely in efforts to convince business owners to place illegal gambling devices within their establishments, a grand jury presentment alleges.
Further evidence presented to the grand jury alleged Gergely collected a campaign contribution from Melocchi and later wrote a check to a colleague’s political campaign during a chain of events that resulted in a relative of Melocchi being hired by the McKeesport Area School District.
A 134-page search warrant affidavit made available in 2013 revealed that a wiretap a year earlier recorded Mr. Gergely telling Melocchi about a complaint his office had received about the kingpin’s illegal video poker machines.
“A court-approved wiretap was part of the Melocchi investigation and confirmed he used a phone to run and promote his illegal business interests,” according to the news release. “The wiretap also intercepted phone calls that show Gergely allegedly assisted Melocchi’s attempts to place illegal gambling machines in McKeesport-area businesses.”
In a November 2012 phone call, Mr. Gergely was heard tipping off Melocchi regarding a woman who came to his legislative office, ostensibly upset that her husband lost their life savings in one of Melocchi’s illegal video poker machines. The woman, who dropped off a letter for the legislator at his White Oak office, was in fact an undercover agent for the AG’s office, according to the affidavit.
The letter was read to Mr. Gergely by an aide.
“Mr. Gergely,” the 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.”
The call was recorded by the investigators Nov. 9, 2012 at 8:18 p.m., according to the affidavit.
“I just want to take care of ya,” Mr. Gergely is recorded telling Melocchi — who by 2014 had contributed $3,750 to Mr. Gergely’s campaigns since 2006. “She obviously has no idea that we have a connection.”
Melocchi, 55, of West Newton, pleaded guilty Oct. 1 to a felony count of running a corrupt organization and two misdemeanor counts, distributing gambling devices and engaging in sports pool selling. He entered the plea before Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Joseph K. Williams III.
“This is an unfortunate case in which the players traded political capital and favors to advance their own agendas and illicit business,” Attorney General Kathleen Kane said, according to the release. “The evidence clearly shows that Mr. Melocchi relied heavily on his relationships — including with Mr. Gergely — to conduct his illegal business.”
Mr. Gergely has been a state representative since 2003. The base salary for a state legislator is $85,339.
Editor’s note: The presentment contains foul language, reader discretion is advised
Staff writers Jonathan D. Silver, Kate Giammarise, Chris Potter and Karen Langley contributed. Bill Schackner: firstname.lastname@example.org. Andrew Goldstein: email@example.com.
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