Gaming inquiry looks for mob ties
Board wants to know if Mount Airy casino bidder connected to crime boss.
D'Elia, 62, of Hughestown, Luzerne County, is being held without bail in Pike County. He was charged in October with conspiring to kill a witness while out on bail from a previous indictment on money laundering and other offenses. In 2003, the New Jersey Casino Control Board barred him from entering any casino in that state.
The request to interview D'Elia was made Dec. 13, according to D'Elia's attorney, James Swetz of Stroudsburg. It has triggered questions because it came just hours before the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board's staff approved DeNaples as "suitable" for a slots license. The board is scheduled to award licenses Wednesday.
DeNaples, a wealthy and politically connected Scranton-area businessman who is seeking a slots license for his Mount Airy Lodge in Monroe County, is up against proposals in Allentown, Bethlehem, the Gettysburg area and another Poconos site for two licenses.
Character counts in awarding slots licenses in Pennsylvania, so proven ties of any kind between D'Elia, who reputedly heads the Bufalino crime family, and DeNaples could hurt DeNaples' chances of owning a slots parlor.
"It stinks," said DeNaples' spokesman, Kevin Feeley.
Gaming board officials declined to discuss their interest in speaking to D'Elia. Spokesman Doug Harbach would say only that as part of the regulatory process for all applicants, "investigations are ongoing."
DeNaples, who rarely speaks to the media, could not be reached for comment.
But Feeley, DeNaples' Philadelphia-based spokesman, denied any connection between DeNaples and D'Elia, and said DeNaples has "no relationship with organized crime or any member of organized crime."
Feeley pointed out that DeNaples was subject to more than 2,000 hours of investigation and background checks. Feeley found it "absurd" that gaming board investigators, who had many months to speak to D'Elia, would attempt to do so now.
"The timing of this is very suspicious and is an act of desperation trying to smear Louis DeNaples just days before the licenses will be awarded," Feeley said. Gaming board staff "found Mr. DeNaples suitable for a license, and now this comes at the 11th hour."
Pennsylvania's gaming law states casino applicants must show "clear and convincing evidence of good character, honesty and integrity."
Ties between DeNaples and D'Elia have been alleged for years.
In 2001, an affidavit submitted in a federal gambling investigation mentions DeNaples and D'Elia. In the document, four informants alleged DeNaples had made payments to D'Elia for undisclosed work. The affidavit also alleges DeNaples made protection payments to D'Elia to keep mobsters away from DeNaples' landfill business. Neither DeNaples nor D'Elia was charged with a crime. Finally, the affidavit alleges D'Elia sold space at DeNaples' Keystone Landfill in Dunmore, Lackawanna County.
D'Elia was charged in May with laundering drug money for a Florida man, and in October with conspiring to kill a witness in that case. He has been held at a federal detention center since Oct. 12, when authorities searched his home and recovered money, jewelry, documents and more than three dozen guns.
Among the documents obtained through a search warrant and filed in federal court were bank statements from First National Community Bank in Dunmore, a bank DeNaples owns.
The gaming board's background investigations are a routine part of the licensing process, but investigators probing DeNaples interviewed several Scranton businessmen familiar with D'Elia and DeNaples only after D'Elia was imprisoned in October.
DeNaples, of Dunmore, drew interest statewide after announcing he would seek a slots license immediately after buying the once- bankrupt Mount Airy Lodge resort in 2004.
The owner of numerous businesses in the Scranton area, ranging from landfills to banks to auto-parts shops, DeNaples also serves on various boards and is a trustee of the University of Scranton. He has given hundreds of thousands of dollars in political donations to a variety of candidates, Republican and Democrat, and also has given millions to charitable causes. During one gaming board hearing earlier this year, he was accompanied by a Catholic priest and vouched for by a nun.