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Suspect contributed to key politicians

Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, 1:06 a.m.
 

The alleged ringleader of a McKeesport area gambling organization and his wife contributed almost $8,000 to four local lawmakers' campaigns.

Pennsylvania Department of State records list Ronald Melocchi, 54, of West Newton and his wife, Sue, as contributors of $7,900 in cash and equivalents to the campaigns of state Sen. James Brewster of McKeesport and Reps. Marc Gergely of White Oak, Bill Kortz of Dravosburg and R. Ted Harhai of Monessen, all Democrats.

Kortz said he would send back the $400 he received from Melocchi.

“In light of these indictments, I am sending this money back,” Kortz said late on Friday. “It is all going back. These are very serious allegations.”

Melocchi was arraigned on Thursday on one third-degree and three first-degree felony counts as well as 53 misdemeanor counts, 49 for having illegal gambling devices.

He is free on nonmonetary bond pending a preliminary hearing on Thursday at 9 a.m. before Magisterial District Judge Thomas P. Caulfield in Forest Hills.

“I will have no comment on nothing,” Melocchi said when reached on Friday afternoon.

On Thursday, as the indictment was being unsealed, Brewster declined comment, saying, “I don't know enough about it.”

Gergely did not return calls seeking comment. Harhai could not be reached for comment at presstime.

State records show Melocchi faced gambling charges on at least two other occasions since 2000.

In 2000, he was charged with possession of gambling devices. On Feb. 28, 2001, he pleaded guilty to five misdemeanor counts before Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Gerald Bigley.

In 2008, a gambling devices charge against Melocchi was withdrawn before Magisterial District Judge Eugene F. Riazzi Jr. in McKeesport. A summary charge of disorderly conduct was moved to nontraffic court but state court records do not show if a plea was made on that count.

“I did not know of any of that,” Kortz said on Friday. “This is the first inclination I ever had because I never knew Ron until I was elected (in 2006.”

State records show that over the past seven years Ronald Melocchi contributed $6,200 in cash and $1,000 in gift cards to campaigns, while Sue Melocchi made one $700 cash contribution:

• In 2006, Ronald Melocchi contributed $1,000 to Gergely's re-election campaign, listing both his West Newton home address and his business address of Mama Pepino's Pizza along Eden Park Boulevard in McKeesport.

• In 2008, Melocchi contributed $100 to Kortz's re-election campaign, listing his West Newton address, and another $1,000 contribution to Gergely's campaign, listing himself as “self-employed” and his address as that of Back Alley Vending along Monongahela Avenue in Glassport.

That is the same address listed for Back Alley Vending in a state grand jury's presentment of the case against Melocchi and 15 co-defendants.

There are two reports filed with state officials regarding the 2008 Kortz campaign, but Kortz said his campaign staff amended an earlier report.

• In 2010, Melocchi, listing his home address, made an $800 contribution to Harhai's re-election campaign.

• In 2011, Sue Melocchi made a $700 contribution to Brewster's campaign committee, while Ronald Melocchi made a pair of $750 contributions to the state senator's campaign.

All three contributions were listed with an O'Neil Boulevard address, in one case as that of Mama Pepino's Pizza, in the other as Back Alley Vending.

• Also in 2011, Ronald Melocchi made two $750 contributions to Gergely's campaign, in both cases listing the O'Neil Boulevard address but again with one as Mama Pepino's and the other as Back Alley Vending.

In 2012, Melocchi listed his West Newton address and the Mama Pepino's address with contributions of $300 in cash to Kortz's campaign and $1,000 in gift cards to be used by Gergely's campaign as door prizes.

Kortz said he believes he received that $300 at his annual picnic — and was surprised to get it — because Melocchi had worked for an opponent of Kortz in a previous election.

“Ron and I were not on the best of terms,” Kortz said. “Quite honestly, I was surprised that he came to my picnic and gave me a contribution in light of what transpired.”

A hearing is scheduled on Monday at 1 p.m. in Harrisburg on ethics bills, including a series submitted over the past two weeks by another local lawmaker.

“There is a need for ethics reform,” said Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Elizabeth Township. “We have corruption from the highest levels to the lowest levels in our government and we have had enough of it.”

Saccone introduced House Bills 1667 (with four co-sponsors, banning any public official or employee from soliciting gifts or gratuities from anyone doing business or seeking to do business with the public figure's governing body), 1668 (with three co-sponsors, clarifying the definition of a public official), 1669 (with four co-sponsors, banning gifts to public officials of more than $100 in transportation, lodging or hospitality in a 24-hour period), 1670 (with two co-sponsors, raising maximum penalties for failure to file financial statements in a timely manner from $250 to $2,000) and 1671.

HB 1671, for which Kortz is one of four co-sponsors, would require public discussion of matters normally taken into executive session.

“There is far too much being done in executive sessions that should be done in the open,” Saccone said.

HB 1667 was referred to the House State Government Committee on Aug. 28. The other bills were referred to the committee on Tuesday.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or pcloonan@tribweb.com.

 

 
 


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