Pennsylvania Lawmaker Pleads Guilty in Illegal Gambling Machine Case

Marc Gergely Pleads Guilty - Illegal Gambling Machine Case

Illegal campaign contributions were made to Gergely’s political campaign.

A Pennsylvania lawmaker, Democratic state Rep. Marc Gergely, reached a plea bargain in a case involving an illegal video gambling operation. Representative Gergely pleaded guilty to counts of accepting an illegal campaign contribution and conspiracy.

In return for the guilty pleas, felony charges were dropped against the seven-term lawmaker. Gergely’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for November 6. If similar cases in other states are an example, Marc Gergely will lose his seat in the Pennsyvlania State Legislature upon being sentenced, though he still votes on legislative matters at this time.

The plea bargain comes at a time that the Pennsylvania legislature is in a stalemate over a $32 billion budget bill, including a $2.2 billion deficit. The Pennsylvania House and Senate have competing budget proposals, each of which containing expanded gambling. In the House version of the bill, video lottery terminals would be legalized — making illegal video gambling machines much less lucrative in the state. Had legal VGTs existed prior to Gergely’s crimes, he might never have faced the temptation to help illegal video gambling machine operators.

Marc Gergely Pleaded Guilty to Conspiracy

Marc Gergely stood accused of helping Ronald “Porky” Melocchi hide the existence of a sprawling illegal video gambling machine operation. Melocchi’s operation was located in 70 restaurants, taverns, and bowling alleys throughout the state. Without about 5 gaming machines apiece, Porky Melocchi had 335 illegal gambling machines in operation.

The McKeesports operation, as Melocchi’s crime ring was called, was raided in 2013. Eventually, Melocchi pleaded guilty in 2016 and was sentenced to 10 years’ probation. He also had to pay a variety of fines, fees, and confiscations.

Gergely Accused of Accepting Illegal Campaign Contributions

Representative Gergely is said to have assured prominent business owners to allow machines to be placed in their establishments. According to one witness, Ronald Melocchi was said “to have friends in high places”.

In return, Gergely received illegal campaign contributions. In light of his influence on the business owners, those contributions took on the appearance of bribes. The conspiracy charge, like the illegal campaign contribution charge, is considered a misdemeanor.

Stepped Down from Leadership Positions

Though he is still in the Pennsylvania legislature, Marc Gergely has paid a political price. When charges were announced against him, Gergely stepped down as the ranking Democrat on the House Labor and Industry Committee.

The political price was not as high as some might have expected. Despite the voting public’s awareness of the scandal, Marc Gergely won reelection in November 2016.

Louis Caputo Received 5 Years of Probation

A second prominent individual pleaded guilty in the same case. Attorney Louis Caputo pleaded guilty to a criminal solicitation charge. Caputo received 5 years of probation. Allegheny Common Pleas Judge Edward Borkowski, who handed down the sentence, said Caputo’s sentence reflected the nature of the offense. The fact the defendant cooperated with the investigation also played into the judge’s decision.

Given that the head of the crime ring and another key figure each received probation instead of prison sentences, one can expect Marc Gergely to receive probation in his case, as well. Because the crimes he pleaded guilty to were misdemeanors, Gergely could remain in the Pennsylvania legislature. In similar cases in California, officials found guilty of corruption were barred from holding political office for the remainder of their life.

Video Gambling Terminal (VGT) Legislation

In the aforementioned video gambling terminal legislation proposed by Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai, VGTs would be placed in taverns and restaurants across the state. As many as 40,000 VGTs might be added to the 27,000 slot machines that licensed casinos and racinos in the state contain. The Pennsylvania casino industry is lobbying against the inclusion of VGTs in the new budget bill.

One justification the Pennsylvania House’s leaders have used for a VGT bill is the illegal gambling machine operations throughout the state. Opponents of VGT legislation have called on House members to bring proof that such operations exist, though Marc Gergely and Louis Caputo are ready proof of such illegal gambling machines.

On September 19, officials will hold a hearing to discuss VGT legislation and whether illegal video gambling terminals exist in Pennsylvania.