Friday, January 4, 2008

Priest Charged in Probe of Pocono Casino Owner

Feather News

A Scranton, Pa., priest was charged with perjury on Wednesday in a continuing grand jury investigation of the owner of the Mount Airy Casino and Hotel, Louis DeNaples. The Mount Airy Casino opened in October and is about twenty miles from the Mohegan's Pocono Downs in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

Father Sica is accused of lying to the grand jury in August when he testified that he had no relationship with organized crime boss Russell Bufalino and was acquainted with Bufalino only in passing. Photographs surfaced during the investigation, however, that showed the two men arm-in-arm at a barbecue. Father Sica sent a note to Mr. Bufalino and his wife that was signed "love, Joe" and one witness said the Bufalinos attended Father Sica's ordination.

Mr. Bufalino was the boss of the Northeastern Pennsylvania crime family known as the Bufalino family from 1959 to 1989. He was involved in bootlegging in upstate New York along with Joseph Barbara, who later hosted the infamous "Appalachian Conference" in 1957 at his ranch that included all 26 U.S. crime families. Federal and state agents raid of the property was a major blow to the secrecy of organized crime. Bufalino replaced Barbara as boss of the small crime family, running it for the next thirty years. Bufalino died in 1994.

"Sica's testimony regarding the level of his relationship with Bufalino was intentionally false," the grand jury said. "This relationship was far beyond the one described by Mr. Sica in his grand jury testimony. "Because of the length and closeness of their friendship, Father Sica's relationship to known criminals was material to whether Mr. DeNaples had a relationship with the same known criminals," according to the presentment.

Sica went to various Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board hearings with DeNaples but was not a character witness and did not testify before the board. Former PGCB chairman Chairman Tad Decker said that nothing has yet been exposed that would have changed his mind about having given DeNaples a gaming license. "Only a (DeNaples) indictment or conviction" would change his mind, he said.

Francis T. Chardo, first assistant district attorney in Dauphin County, who is prosecuting the case, said, "This involves allegations of perjury before a grand jury in a matter ... that could involve billions of dollars. For someone not entitled to a gaming license, that's what would be reaped," Mr. Chardo said.

A January 25th hearing has been set before Dauphin County Court Judge Todd Hoover. Judge Hoover, who is supervising the grand jury, set bail at $20,000 after Mr. Chardo said the priest had purchased a handgun in the last year and that he was carrying $1,000 cash when he was arrested in front of his home yesterday morning.

Mr. Chardo also accused Father Sica of making "a veiled threat" against a trooper who transported him to the courthouse. Mr. Chardo said the threat didn't involve physical harm, but related to defamatory information the priest allegedly learned about the trooper from a former officer who now works at the Mount Airy Casino.