Grand Jury probe into casino owner continues

January 3, 2008 5:28:41 PM PST
The grand jury that recommended a perjury charge against a Roman Catholic priest linked to casino owner Louis DeNaples is not finished with its work - and prosecutors say the panel may consider charges against other people.

Recent statements by the Dauphin County District Attorney's Office indicate that prosecutors believe DeNaples, owner of Mount Airy Casino Resort in the Poconos, lied to state gaming regulators when he said he had no ties to organized crime.

The investigation has "uncovered substantial evidence demonstrating that DeNaples lied in his sworn testimony" to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, District Attorney Ed Marsico said in court documents unsealed last month.

DeNaples, a wealthy businessman from Scranton whose interests range from banking to landfills, has denied having any connection to the mob. His spokesman on Thursday called Marsico's statement merely "an argument made in a brief."

DeNaples' close friend and adviser, the Rev. Joseph Sica, was arrested Wednesday on a charge that he lied to the grand jury about his relationship with the late Russell Bufalino, a mob boss from Scranton who served lengthy prison terms in the 1970s and '80s and died in 1993 at age 90.

Prosecutors said the charge - the first to arise from the grand jury probe of DeNaples - was based partly on separate photographs that showed the priest arm-in-arm with Bufalino and with William D'Elia, who reputedly heads the Bufalino crime family now, at what appeared to be a barbecue. Sica also wrote a letter to the wife of then-Gov. Dick Thornburgh calling Bufalino "my friend" and seeking leniency for him, prosecutors said.

First Assistant District Attorney Francis Chardo said in a statement Wednesday that the grand jury may "consider appropriate charges against other individuals."

Legal analysts say prosecutors might have charged Sica as a way to pressure him into testifying against DeNaples.

"Sometimes it requires pressure to get people to cooperate, and sometimes that pressure is an indictment," said Edwin H. Stier, a former federal and New Jersey state prosecutor who specialized in corruption and organized crime cases.

"Prosecutors do that all the time," added Temple University law professor Maureen McCartney, a former assistant district attorney in Philadelphia who worked on a grand jury investigation into sexual abuse by priests.

Sica's lawyer, Robert Daniels, said Thursday that there have been no discussions about a plea.

Sica, who was released on $20,000 unsecured bail after being led from court in handcuffs, is "relieved to be out of custody," Daniels said. "It obviously was quite a shock for him."

Court records show that Sica filed for bankruptcy in April 1997, with DeNaples as his largest creditor. DeNaples' bank, First National Community Bancorp of Dunmore, lent Sica more than $130,000 for "family expenses," and Sica owed the bank an additional $16,500 on a loan for a 1996 Chevrolet Blazer.

Sica, the chaplain at Mercy Hospital in Scranton, withdrew his bankruptcy petition a few weeks after it was filed. Court documents do not indicate why he dropped the claim.

State law empowers the gaming board to revoke or suspend Mount Airy's license if DeNaples is charged with a crime. The grand jury probe, however, appears to have had no impact on the casino's operations. Mount Airy's nightclub and lounge opened last week, and patrons have wagered more than $360 million since the casino opened in October.

DeNaples' spokesman, Kevin Feeley, declined comment on the possibility of other charges in the case.

"We've made it a practice not to comment on the activities of an operating grand jury and we're not going to change that now," said Feeley.