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1st Operation Pork Chop trial now set for April

| Thursday, March 27, 2014, 4:36 a.m.

Another trial date, another continuance for the Operation Pork Chop defendants.

The latest postponement is until June 3 for the nonjury trial scheduled on Wednesday for retired McKeesport police Lt. Arthur D. Pero before Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Beth A. Lazzara.

A spokeswoman for the state attorney general's office said Pero's attorney James A. Crosby requested the delay because of a scheduling conflict. Crosby's office said he was in Cambria County on Wednesday.

Pero, 57, of McKeesport is among 16 defendants indicted last fall by a state investigative grand jury for alleged involvement in a Mon-Yough area gambling ring, covering video poker machines with knockoff switches as well as sports betting and numbers.

The indictments followed raids on Dec. 10, 2012, in which 70 warrants were executed and 354 video machines were seized along with more than $1 million in cash. All 16 remain free on nonmonetary bond.

While Pero may be one of the better-known defendants, his is among the lesser cases filed, two misdemeanor counts of setting up lottery or numbers games.

On one end is accused mastermind Ronald M. “Porky” Melocchi, 55, of West Newton, who along with six others are scheduled to enter pleas on April 17 before Common Pleas Judge Joseph K. Williams III.

Melocchi is charged with felony counts of corrupt organization, conspiring to use profits of unlawful activities, dealing in proceeds of those activities, and criminal use of a communication facility, as well as 53 misdemeanor counts, 49 of which involve gambling devices.

On the other is one of the six joining Melocchi on April 17, Catherine Gouker, 56, of Belle Vernon who is charged with one misdemeanor count of allowing gambling in her Glassport Diner.

Others scheduled to enter pleas are Kirk A. Mollica of Elizabeth Township, who turns 47 on Monday (charged with three felonies, four misdemeanors); former McKeesport police Sgt. Ronald D. Prest, 66, of White Oak (four felonies, two misdemeanors); Robert H. Bogesdorfer, 68, of Irwin (three felonies, two misdemeanors); Councilman Daniel K. Carr, 55, of McKeesport (two felonies, three misdemeanors); and Frank C. Reese, 62, of McKeesport (two felonies, two misdemeanors).

One defendant not included in that list of pleas will go on trial on April 17 before Williams. Mark Novakovich, 56, of White Oak is charged with allowing gambling at his Twin Oaks in White Oak.

Jeffrey F. Risha, 59, of Belle Vernon is charged with one misdemeanor count of bookmaking. He is one of five scheduled for what now may be the first “Pork Chop” trial, a non-jury affair beginning on April 3 before Common Pleas Judge Donald E. Machen.

Others set for April 3 trial before Machen are Clairton Municipal Authority member James A. Cerqua, 58, of Clairton (three felonies, four misdemeanors); Forward Township police Chief Mark P. Holtzman, 57, of McKeesport (two felonies, two misdemeanors); Terence P. McNelis, 52, of Baldwin (three felonies, three misdemeanors); and Rodney Elia Iannelli, 53, of Ohio Township (three felonies, two misdemeanors),

Two other trials have May dates. Eugene “Red” Kowalski Jr., 66, of North Huntingdon Township is to go before Machen on May 19 on three felony and two misdemeanor counts.

Timothy J. Minkus, 32, of West Mifflin will go on May 27 before Judge Donna Jo McDaniel on three felony and three misdemeanor counts as well as nine traffic counts in an unrelated case filed by Duquesne police last year.

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