Gambling ring suspect Minkus waives counts; 14 hearings postponed
A second man indicted in connection with an alleged illegal gambling operation in the McKeesport area has waived his case to court, and preliminary hearings were postponed for 14 suspects.
Timothy Minkus, 31, of West Mifflin appeared before Forest Hills Magisterial District Judge Thomas Caulfield on Thursday morning on charges of dealing in proceeds of illegal activity, lotteries, gambling devices, conspiracy and corrupt organizations. His formal arraignment is set for Oct. 30 at 11 a.m.
Charges against Minkus stem from his alleged involvement in a Mon Valley gambling ring said to be led by Ronald “Porky” Melocchi Sr., owner of Glassport-based Back Alley Vending.
The investigation by the Attorney General's Organized Crime Section and state police centered around Melocchi from October 2012 through Dec. 10, 2012, in what was called Operation Pork Chop. Melocchi is accused of installing, servicing and maintaining gambling devices in bars, restaurants and other locations. Authorities seized 354 video machines, many of which were made illegal by the presence of “knock-off” switches and internal meters. More than $1 million was seized.
The criminal complaint alleges that Minkus was hired by Melocchi in 2011 to run The Coffee Pot, a business in McKeesport. The shop had seven machines that were used for gambling, prosecutors allege.
Minkus estimated the machines generated between $5,000 and $7,000 in profit per week. He was fired in August 2012, and the shop was run by Mark Holtzman, now the Forward Township police chief.
Holtzman, 57, of McKeesport is charged with gambling devices, conspiracy and two counts of corrupt organization. His preliminary hearing before Caulfield is set for Oct. 3 at 9 a.m.
According to the complaint, the shop was used for illegal lotteries, and Minkus accepted lottery wages.
An undercover state trooper went to the business as part of the investigation and reported he observed Minkus making payoffs to players of the machines. Minkus allegedly offered to take any numbers bets the trooper wanted to make. The trooper placed bets with Minkus in person and over the phone until August 2012, records indicate.
Sixteen persons were formally arraigned in Caulfield's chambers on Sept. 4. They were released on nonmonetary bond on condition that they be fingerprinted at Pittsburgh Municipal Court on Oct. 2
Eugene “Red” Kowalski, 65, of North Huntingdon Township waived his case to court on Wednesday. He is charged with dealing in proceeds of illegal gambling activity, corrupt organizations, gambling devices and conspiracy. Kowalski's formal arraignment is set for Oct. 21 at 11 a.m.
Preliminary hearings for the remaining 14 suspects were postponed.
Arthur Pero, 56, of McKeesport is charged with two counts of lotteries. His hearing is set for Sept. 26.
Jeffrey F. Risha, 59, of Belle Vernon is charged with pool selling and bookmaking. His hearing is set for Oct. 10.
Those with hearings slated for Oct. 3 are:
• James Cerqua, 57, of Clairton, charged with dealing in proceeds of illegal activity, gambling devices, pool selling and bookmaking and two counts of corrupt organization.
• Rodney Elia Iannelli, 53, of Ohio Township, charged with dealing in proceeds of illegal activity, lotteries, conspiracy and two counts of corrupt organization.
• Terence P. McNelis, 52, of Whitehall, charged with corrupt organization, dealing in proceeds of illegal activity, lotteries, pool selling and bookmaking and conspiracy.
• Mark Novakovich, 55, of White Oak, charged with gambling devices.
Those with hearings scheduled for Nov. 21 are:
• Melocchi, 54, of West Newton, charged with dealing in the proceeds of illegal activity, criminal use of a communication facility, lotteries, pool selling and bookmaking, two counts of corrupt organization, two counts of conspiracy, and multiple counts of gambling devices.
• Robert Bogesdorfer, 67, of Irwin, charged with dealing in the proceeds of illegal activity, gambling devices, conspiracy, and two counts of corrupt organizations.
• Dan Carr, 55, of McKeesport, charged with two counts of corrupt organization and two counts of gambling devices.
• Catherine Gouker, 55, of Belle Vernon, charged with gambling devices, pool selling and bookmaking.
• Kirk A. Mollica, 46, of Elizabeth, charged with dealing in proceeds of illegal activity, lotteries, gambling devices, two counts of corrupt organization and two counts of conspiracy.
• Ronald Prest, 65, of White Oak, charged with dealing in the proceeds of illegal activity, criminal use of a communication facility, gambling devices, conspiracy, and two counts of corrupt organization.
• Frank Reese, 61, of McKeesport, charged with dealing in the proceeds of illegal activity, gambling devices, conspiracy, and two counts of corrupt organization.
Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1965, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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