Sunday, October 27, 2013

When Mobsters and Politicians Meet

Matt Birkbeck. The Quiet Don: The Untold Story of Mafia Kingpin Russell Buffalino. New York: Berkley Books, 2013.

Rossario “Russell” Buffalino was the mob boss who organization the meeting of mob bosses in 1957 which the police raided. This raid confirmed suspicious that mob organizations had interconnections.

Buffalino’s territory included northeast Pennsylvania and parts of New York State. Northeast Pennsylvania, in the 1940s, was known for garment companies that were controlled by Buffalino that paid low wages in hopes of undercutting higher wages of unionized garment workers in New York City.

Buffalino often picked which people would run and be elected to county and local political offices. He led a political operation which rigged election results.

Buffalino was close to U.S. Rep. Dan Flood. Flood helped Medico Industries, in which Buffalino had a major interest, in obtaining military contracts. Rep. Flood resigned from Congress in lieu of facing a second trial for accepting illegal funds from lobbyists and contractors. His trial was suspected of having a fixed juror. Although Flood was not charged with anything regarding this, the FBI had wiretaps of Flood and Medico officials discussing deals,

Buffalino also controlled illegal gambling of sports betting and poker parlors in the Scranton-Wyoming area. Buffalino received a commission and a percent of gross profits from these operations. He also persuaded local police to look the other way at these illegal activities.

A 1951 government report criticized the Scranton police for ignoring obvious signs of illegal gambling sites. State Police officers reported bribe offers. The committee report estimated the illegal operations grossed $30 million a year.

There were raids that captured millions of gambling tickets. These raids resulted in fines ranging from $200 to $300. It was alleged a suspected gambling operator gave a $2,500 ring to the Public Safety Director.

The Lackawanna Country District Attorney claimed it did not prosecute many gambling cases because its office did not police matters even though the office had four detectives. The State Police tried to raid illegal lottery operations while local police remained uninvolved in halting gambling.

In 1961, Buffalino joined with a Central Intelligence Agency agent awaiting a hoped for successful invasion of Cuba. Earlier, Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa had introduced Buffalino to Federal government agents. The invastion effort failed. Had it worked, Buffalino was going to return to Cuba to help regain mob assets. Among them was $1 million Buffalino had buried in Cuba when Castro took control

The mob use to earn over $1 million a day in its Cuban activities. In 1995, Time magazine presented a story about CIA ties with Hoffa, Buffalino, and mobsters Sam Giancona and Johnny Roselli. Ten days after the article appeared, Giancona was shot to death. Six weeks later Hoffa disappeared. Some theorize Hoffa was murdered as he was threatening to expose ties of then current Teamsters President Frank Fitzsimmon to the mob in hopes Hoffa could regain his old position. About a year later, Roselli was murdered. Some theorize there were fears Giancona and Roselli might also expose secrets and those fears led to their deaths.

In 2005, Pennsylvania Deputy Police Commissioner Ralph Periandi began investigating Governor Ed Rendell. Suspicions arose over Rendell’s support of legalizing casino gambling and awarding contracts. Rendell had sought election as a supported of casino gambling as a means of obtaining funds to reduce property taxes. There were also concerns over Turnpike Commission contracts. It was the reported tradition that half of Turnpike Commissions are awarded by the legislative majority party, one fourth are awarded by the legislative minority party, and one fourth are awarded by the Governor.

State Senators Robert Mellow and Vincent Fumo were instrumental in getting legislation passed legalizing casino gambling, Both would later be charged with corruptoin.

The State Police conducted background checks on appointees to the newly created Gaming Control Board Rendell’s Chief of Staff John Esty and Revenue Secretary Greg Fajt told the State Police that Rendell wanted speedy background checks on his appointees to the Gaming Control Board  to get the casinos operating quickly.

Rendell named Frank Friel Gaming Board Chairman. Friel allegedly had friendships with people with alleged mob ties. The State Police investigation of Friel caused Rendell to ask Friel to step aside. The press obtained the confidential State Police report on Friel. This upset Rendell who privately blamed the State Police for leaking the report.

Secretary Fajt switched having background checks conducted by the State Police and instead had them conducted by the Bureau of Investigations and Enforcement (BIE), a division of the Gaming Control Board. The State Police would conduct low level background checks and overall casino security. The BIE did not have access to information which the State Police did.

Louie DeNaples, an associate of Buffalino’s, waned a casino. DeNaples had previously been charged with defrauding the government. DeNaples was charged with submitting $525,000 in false reimbursements for Federal government clean-up funds following a hurricane. In his first trial, one lone juror created a hung jury. The juror was later convicted of receiving $1,000, four tires, and a watch for the ruse. DeNaples then pled guilty in a plea bargain where he was fined $10,000 and received no jail time.

This 1978 conviction of DeNaples would have prevented him from obtaining a casino license in Nevada and New Jersey. Pennsylvania created a law prevented people convicted of felonies over the past 15 years from obtaining casino licenses. DeNaples was not legally barred from seeking a Pennsylvania casino license. DeNaples received a slots casino license by a unanimous Gaming Control Board vote in 2006.

A grand jury report noted that some Gaming Control Board members had favorite awardees for different casino applications They got together with other Board members and agreed to vote foreach other’s favorite applicants. State legislative leaders had influence in these selections. No criminal charges resulted from this grand jury.

Periandi believes a State Police background check would have blocked DeNaples from getting a casino license. Periandi theorized the creation of the BIE was to allow DeNaples to circumvent the process.

DeNaples contributed over $100,000 to Rendell’s political campaign. Tad Dexter, the Board Chairman, had worked with the Cozon O’Coner law firm whose clients included DeNaples. Dexter returned to this firm after stepping down as Chairman William Conaboy, who had also been an attorney for DeNaples, was appointed to the Gaming Control Board. One of DeNaples’s consultants was Kevin Feeley, who was Deputy Mayor to Rendell when Rendell was Philadelphia Mayor. U.S. Attorney Thomas Marino, whose jurisdiction included northeast Pennsylvania, was a personal reference for DeNaples’s application. Marino shortly afterwards became a $250,000 a year attorney for DeNaples’s casino. Marino was later elected to the U.S. Congress.

William D’Elia took over for Buffalino when Buffalino died. The FBI arrested D’Elia. D’Elia agreed to cooperate with authorities.

Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico began a grand jury investigation into the Gaming Control Board. He subpoenaed D’Elia. D’Elia told of organized crime acivity with DeNaples including fixing his 1977 trial. Shamsud Din-Ali testified about his landfill dealings with DeNaples.

DeNaples, in seeking a casino license, denied knowing Shamsud-Din Ali, who was convicted of racketeering and defrauding Philadelphia government. It was later disclosed the FBI had taped Ali arranged for DeNaples to accept hazardous waste at a landfill DeNaples operated.

The Pennsylvania Casino Association, which was funded by DeNaples, hired former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Stephen Zappala as a lobbyist for $500,000.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in its first time ever in a criminal case, used its “King’s Bench” powers to stop the prosecution of DeNaples by Marsico

Marsico decided to go after DeNaples for perjury. DeNaples and Marsico came to an agreement that perjury charges would be dropped if DeNaples yielded ownership of his casino. DeNaples then transferred ownership to his daughter.

Paul Rossi testified that the state Supreme Court negotiated rulings on cases with state legislators. One of these was getting the Court to oppose a lawsuit against pay raises for legislators, judges, and Justices. A Supreme Court Justice even reassured Gaming Control Board staff that the Court would side with them in their casino licensing decision

DeNaples was not clear of trouble. D’Elia alerted Federal authorities to a scam where teenagers were being improperly sent to a private juvenile detention center that was profiting from these detentions. Bank regulators implicated the First National Bank in scams. DeNaples had a major interest in the bank.

DeNaples registered trucks, that were damaged being under flood waters, as non-damaged vehicles with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. These vehicles were sold at regular, non-damaged vehicle prices. This was discovered when some vehicles malfunctioned.


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