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Four members of 'Penn Hills Family' charged with crimes

State police yesterday arrested four Penn Hills men and accused them of operating a criminal organization patterned after the Italian Mafia that carried out 17 burglaries, an armed robbery and other crimes in Pittsburgh and its eastern suburbs.

The suspects, with the map of Italy tattooed on their shoulders, referred to themselves as the "Penn Hills Family," police said.

The Pennsylvania State Police organized crime unit charged Louis Anthony Amendola, 23, of McCrady Road, Thomas Ryan Maxwell, 19, of Cedarwood Drive, Philip Edward Vecchio, 21, of Garlow Road, and Shane Andrew Kesneck, 22, no address listed, with burglary, criminal conspiracy, being members of a corrupt organization, robbery, theft, assault and criminal attempt.

Vecchio and Amendola face additional charges of indecent assault.

Three members of the group were caught in February 2009 robbing a store in Penn Hills, police said. One of them identified the group leaders and told police about the organization.

Police said Amendola served as the organization's "self-appointed boss," and often called the group "la Cosa Nostra," or "Our Thing" -- the name used to refer to the traditional Italian Mafia.

A criminal complaint accuses Amendola of selling stolen items and distributing money as "shares" to members. He assessed a "tax" or penalty by withholding payment to members who made mistakes, police said. Vecchio and Kesneck served directly under Amendola in the organization, according to the complaint.

The men -- who police say formed the group while students at Penn Hills High School -- are accused of meeting regularly to plot their crimes and then employing lookouts to watch for police.

They used walkie-talkies and cell phones to communicate with each other when they broke into businesses and homes in Pittsburgh, Plum, Wilkins and Penn Hills between June 3, 2008 and Feb. 22, 2009, police said. In some cases, they cut power and telephone lines to avoid triggering alarms.

Stolen items included cash, jewelry, big-screen TVs, laptops, MP3 players, liquor and even 13 aluminum handrails from the bleachers at Penn Hills High School.

The group is accused of robbing an employee of Vocelli Pizza in Penn Hills of $1,445 at gunpoint on Sept. 6, 2008, while she was making a night bank deposit.

In addition to breaking into homes, the men are accused of burglarizing the Step Up hair-styling salon in Plum three times. They are implicated in burglaries at the Kollel Jewish Learning Center in Squirrel Hill, Keeley's Beauty Shop in Penn Hills, the Churchill Country Club in Penn Hills, the CVS pharmacy in Penn Hills and the Rivertowne Inn restaurant in Verona.

The men were in Allegheny County Jail last night awaiting arraignment.

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