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Final 7 Mon Valley gambling ring suspects waive charges

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Ronald Melocchi

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Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013, 4:31 a.m.
 

Seven suspects allegedly involved in an illegal Mon Valley gambling ring waived their cases to court Wednesday in Forest Hills Magisterial District Judge Thomas P. Caulfield's chambers.

Alleged ringleader Ronald “Porky” Melocchi Sr., 54, of West Newton waived charges of criminal use of a communication facility, corrupt organizations, conspiracy, setting up lottery or numbers games, engaging in pool selling/bookmaking, dealing proceeds of illegal activity and multiple counts of gambling devices.

Melocchi is the owner of Glassport-based Back Alley Vending. He is accused of installing, servicing and maintaining gambling devices in bars, restaurants and other locations.

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.

Authorities confiscated 354 video machines, many of them illegal because they were equipped with “knock-off” switches and internal meters. More than $1 million was seized.

Approximately 70 sealed state search warrants were executed at homes, businesses and banks associated with the alleged criminal operation.

Melocchi's attorney Bruce A. Carsia said his client waived the charges because the legal challenges are not for the magisterial level.

“I think there's some legal issues, some search and seizure issues that have to be addressed,” Carsia said.

Carsia said he plans to challenge wiretaps and other evidence.

“There are only certain things you can do at a preliminary hearing,” Carsia said.

Investigators intercepted Melocchi's conversations about gambling, and about placing machines and collecting money from businesses, according to court documents.

Several of those allegedly involved in the conversations have not been charged.

Joe Peters, a spokesman for Attorney General Kathleen Kane, declined to comment, and would not say if there will be more indictments.

“We can't confirm or deny the existence or nonexistence of an investigation,” Peters said.

Melocchi is McKeesport's recreation board chairman.

McKeesport Councilman Dan Carr, 55, waived charges of corrupt organizations, conspiracy, gambling devices and two counts of allowing gambling.

Carr, owner of the Viking Lounge, could not be reached for comment.

Court documents indicate a search warrant was executed on Nov. 1, 2012, at the Viking and eight video machines were seized. It was raided again on Dec. 11, 2012, when workers from Back Alley Vending were observed removing machines from other businesses to replace the ones law enforcement had confiscated.

Frank Reese, 61, of McKeesport waived charges of dealing in proceeds of illegal activity, gambling devices, conspiracy, and two counts of corrupt organization.

Kirk A. Mollica, 46, of Elizabeth waived charges of dealing in proceeds of illegal activity, lotteries, gambling devices, two counts of corrupt organization and two counts of conspiracy.

Catherine Gouker, 55, of Belle Vernon waived charges of gambling devices, pool selling and bookmaking.

Retired McKeesport police sergeant Ronald Prest, 65, of White Oak waived charges of dealing in proceeds of illegal activity, criminal use of a communication facility, gambling devices, conspiracy, and two counts of conspiracy.

Prest left the force on April 17, 1990.

Robert Bogesdorfer, 67, of Irwin waived charges of dealing in the proceeds of illegal activity, gambling devices, conspiracy, and two counts of corrupt organizations.

Bogesdorfer is also known as Bo Wagner, a Frank Sinatra impersonator who performs with his “Rat Pack.”

Angela Rene Carsia is the attorney for Carr, Reese, Mollica, Bogesdorfer, Gouker and Prest.

Preliminary hearings had been scheduled for Thursday morning. Carsia said they were moved because of scheduling conflicts.

Formal arraignments are scheduled for Jan. 14.

Deputy Attorney General Michael Ahwesh is handling the case.

Sixteen suspects were arraigned at Caulfield's office on Sept. 5, and released on nonmonetary bond.

Eugene “Red” Kowalski, 65, of North Huntingdon Township was the first to waive his case to court. He is charged with dealing in proceeds of illegal gambling activity, corrupt organizations, gambling devices and conspiracy.

Others who have waived charges:

Timothy Minkus, 31, of West Mifflin.

Former McKeesport police Lt. Arthur Pero, 56, of McKeesport. Pero was working for the department during the time of the investigation. He retired on July 20, having served for at least 20 years.

Forward Township police Chief and McKeesport Area school director Mark Holtzman, 57, of McKeesport.

Clairton Municipal Authority board member James Cerqua, 57, of Clairton.

Rodney Elia Iannelli, 53, of Ohio Township.

Terence P. McNelis, 52, of Whitehall.

Twin Oaks owner Mark Novakovich, 55, of White Oak.

Jeffrey Risha, 49, of Belle Vernon.

Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1965, or mdivittorio@tribweb.com.

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