4 more gambling ring suspects waive charges
Forward Township police Chief Mark Holtzman and three others charged for their alleged involvement in an illegal Mon Valley gambling operation waived their cases to court Thursday morning.
Holtzman, 57, of McKeesport is charged with gambling devices, conspiracy and two counts of corrupt organization.
Holtzman was accompanied by his attorney Chuck LoPresti at preliminary hearing before Forest Hills Magisterial District Judge Thomas Caulfield.
Charges against Holtzman stem from an investigation by the Attorney General's Organized Crime Section and state police, centered around alleged ring leader Ronald “Porky” Melocchi Sr., owner of Glassport-based Back Alley Vending.
“I can't get into discussions that I'm having with my client,” LoPresti said. “I can tell you procedurally today what we did was waive the case, in its entirety with no amendments, into court.
“We intend to continue to have discussions with the Attorney General's office. We respect what they've done so far. Hopefully we'll be able to make something very positive happen here as a result of all the negativity that's occurring. That's my goal here. It's no secret. We're just trying to save a guy's life and a guy's job.”
The investigation centered around Melocchi, 54, of West Newton, 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.
Melocchi is charged with two counts of corrupt organization, one count of dealing proceeds of illegal activity, one count of criminal use of a communication facility, one count of lotteries, one count of pool selling and bookmaking and two counts of conspiracy.
Melocchi is McKeesport's recreation board chairman. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for Nov. 21.
Holtzman, a McKeesport Area school director, is Forward Township's police chief. He retired as a McKeesport police sergeant on Feb. 1, 2011, having served the city for at least 20 years.
“I give the Forward Township (supervisors) all the credit in the world,” LoPresti said. “As we all know, and this is very crucial, just because an allegation is made, there's a presumption constitutionally that someone is not guilty — in fact, is innocent until they're proven guilty — and we are so far away from that.
“I give those (Forward officials)a lot of credit in allowing him to continue on with his job. All of his officers respect him. Everyone in Forward Township is behind him. I think that's just a credit to the kind of man that he is.”
According to the criminal complaint, Holtzman operated the Coffee Pot in McKeesport starting in August 2012.
Machines were seized there on Dec. 11, 2012, during a warrant search.
Court records indicated that the Coffee Pot had seven machines in the back which were used for gambling, and was a location for illegal lotteries.
LoPresti declined to comment on how Holtzman became involved in the Coffee Pot, citing attorney/client privilege.
Clairton Municipal Authority board member James Cerqua, 57, of Clairton, waived charges of dealing in proceeds of illegal activity, gambling devices, pool selling and bookmaking and two counts of corrupt organization.
According to the criminal complaint, Cerqua assisted Back Alley Vending with finding new locations for machines and gambling activity. He is accused of placing sports bets.
LoPresti, who represents Cerqua, said his client is well-known in the community.
“He has been involved in tons of charitable things and police-supported things,” LoPresti said. “In his travels, he came across some of these people as a result of their generosity, the ones that are involved in (the gambling ring), in donating to various causes. I think that was the genesis of how he became involved in some of that. I can't really go into any of the factual basis behind this thing. I can say that, in the grand scheme of things, Jim has to be on the outer realm of collateral involvement.”
Rodney Elia Iannelli, 53, of Ohio Township, waived charges of dealing in proceeds of illegal activity, lotteries, conspiracy and two counts of corrupt organization.
Terence P. McNelis, 52, of Whitehall, waived charges of corrupt organization, dealing in proceeds of illegal activity, lotteries, pool selling and bookmaking and conspiracy.
A preliminary hearing for Twin Oaks owner Mark Novakovich was postponed to Nov. 21 at 9 a.m. at the defense's request.
Novakovich, 55, of White Oak is charged with gambling devices.
Formal arraignment for those who waived charges on Thursday is Nov. 21 at 11 a.m. at Allegheny County Common Pleas Court.
Three others of the 16 indicted waived their cases to court last month and will have preliminary hearings on Nov. 21.
Timothy Minkus, 31, of West Mifflin is charged with dealing in proceeds of illegal activity, lotteries, gambling devices, conspiracy and corrupt organizations.
Arthur Pero, 56, of McKeesport is charged with two counts of lotteries.
Eugene “Red” Kowalski, 65, of North Huntingdon Township is charged with dealing in proceeds of illegal gambling activity, corrupt organization, gambling devices and conspiracy.
Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1965, or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- McKeesport charter sees no problems for opening
- Mon Valley takes time out for night out to build community
- Rostraver native revisits roots on cross-country bike journey
- Homestead-Duquesne Road closure postponed
- Ankle replacement makes UPMC McKeesport history
- Elizabeth Township to pay for road paving study
- Erie attorney named trustee for bankrupt Homestead Cemetery
- Charges held against suspect in McKeesport market robbery, assault
- East Allegheny may meet this week with education association
- Elizabeth Township business forum draws a crowd
- McKeesport man charged with sex assault on 13-year-old girl