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Judge grants continuances, restitution in Pork Chop gambling ring cases

| Thursday, June 5, 2014, 4:21 a.m.
James Cerqua
Mark Holtzman Sr.

Continuances were granted in two Allegheny County Common Pleas courtrooms on Wednesday for four defendants in Operation Pork Chop cases.

Meanwhile, two other defendants have been ordered to pay restitution that could reduce their required probation in the ongoing investigation of illegal McKeesport area gambling.

According to court records, defendant Rodney E. Iannelli of Ohio Township, who turns 54 on Saturday, already is behind $2,745.16 on a payment plan to cover $15,000 in restitution plus court costs ordered April 7 by Judge Donald E. Machen.

Machen ordered the fine along with a one-year probation for Iannelli, who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of conspiring to set up a lottery or numbers game. Three felonies, corrupt organizations, conspiracy and dealing in proceeds of illegal gambling, and a second misdemeanor count of conspiracy were withdrawn by senior deputy Attorney General Michael M. Ahwesh.

Machen sentenced Terence P. McNelis, 52, of Baldwin to two years probation and ordered him to pay $5,000 in restitution plus court costs on April 7, after McNelis pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of setting up a lottery or numbers game.

Ahwesh withdrew three felony counts, all the same as those against Iannelli, and misdemeanor counts of bookmaking and conspiracy. According to court records McNelis has made a required $306.57 payment with a second due June 28.

Continuances were granted Wednesday by Judge Joseph K. Williams III until July 28 in separate cases involving councilman Daniel K. Carr, 55, of McKeesport and restaurant owner Mark Novakovich, 56, of White Oak and by Machen until Sept. 15 for a non-jury trial for Forward Township police Chief Mark K. Holtzman, 57, of McKeesport and Municipal Authority board member James A. Cerqua, 58, of Clairton.

Carr was scheduled to enter a plea regarding felony corrupt organizations and conspiracy counts and misdemeanor counts of allowing gambling and conspiracy on April 17 but that was delayed to allow Carr time to obtain new attorney Robert Allen Goldman.

Novakovich awaits a nonjury trial on one misdemeanor count of allowing gambling at his Twin Oaks restaurant. His attorney Michael C. Pribanic of White Oak entered a motion Wednesday asking Williams to dismiss that charge.

Cerqua is charged with the same felonies that were withdrawn against Iannelli and McNelis, as well as misdemeanor counts of gambling devices, bookmaking and two acts of conspiring to engage in bookmaking. Holtzman is charged with felony corrupt organizations and conspiracy counts and misdemeanor counts of allowing gambling and conspiring to install gambling devices in a coffee shop he operated in McKeesport.

Carr, Novakovich, Holtzman and Cerqua all are free on nonmonetary bond, as are other defendants yet to have their days in court:

• Jeffrey F. Risha, 59, of Belle Vernon is scheduled for a nonjury trial on a misdemeanor count of bookmaking before Machen on Monday.

• Ronald “Porky” Melocchi, 56, of Belle Vernon, the alleged mastermind of the gambling ring, is scheduled to enter a plea regarding 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 misdemeanors, before Williams on June 26.

• Retired police Lt. Arthur Pero, 56, of McKeesport was scheduled for a nonjury trial on Tuesday on two misdemeanor counts of setting up lottery or numbers games but that was continued by Judge Beth A. Lazzara until Aug. 19.

Five Operation Pork Chop defendants have received five years probation apiece: Robert H. Bogesdorfer, 68, of Irwin; Catherine Gouker, 57, of Belle Vernon; Kirk A. Mollica, 47, of Elizabeth Township; retired McKeesport police Sgt. Ronald D. Prest, 66, of White Oak; and Frank C. Reese, 62, of McKeesport.

Timothy J. Minkus, 32, of West Mifflin was sentenced to two years probation while Eugene T. “Red” Kowalski, 66, of North Huntingdon Township was sentenced to one year.

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