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Gergely says he cooperated with authorities in Mon Valley gambling ring investigation

| Monday, Sept. 9, 2013, 4:18 p.m.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
State Rep. Marc Gergely speaks about the Korean War as Sons of the American Legion Post 701 Cmdr. Joe Gallagher Jr. listens during a Saturday ceremony honoring local men and women who served at that time.

A state lawmaker from White Oak on Monday said he received information about an illegal gambling operation in the Mon Valley and tried to direct a supposed victim to state authorities and gambling addiction counselors.

Democratic Rep. Marc Gergely also tipped off the man at the heart of the investigation, Ronald “Porky” Melocchi, 54, of West Newton, according to court documents made available by the state Attorney General's Office.

“I just want to take care of ya,” Gergely told Melocchi, according to a transcript of their wiretapped conversation.

Gergely refused to make himself available for comment. Instead, he released a statement that sought to explain for the first time his involvement in the investigation that resulted last week in charges against 16 people accused of taking part in a gambling ring that included Melocchi, owner of Back Alley Vending in Glassport.

Gergely was not among those charged. His statement did not address his connection to Melocchi.

“I received a letter from a woman who claimed to be my constituent, stating that her husband had gambled away all their money on illegal video poker machines and asking for help,” Gergely's statement read. “As with any constituent issue, I directed my staff to research the issue and provide the constituent with any assistance we could.”

That included phone numbers for Gamblers Anonymous and the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement, which investigates illegal gambling claims against bars.

The woman could not be reached because the number on the handwritten letter did not have a voicemail account, Gergely said. Court filings revealed she was an undercover investigator.

Court filings did not explain why investigators targeted Gergely with the letter or why his taped conversation was made part of the record.

Joe Peters, a spokesman for Attorney General Kathleen Kane, said he could not say whether Gergely or any other lawmakers are under investigation. He said additional charges could be filed against those already named, which include three former police officers and a councilman from McKeesport.

Messages left for McKeesport administrator Matthew Gergely were not returned. He is the lawmaker's brother.

Thomas Maglicco, Marc Gergely's chief of staff, testified in June before a state grand jury.

“I don't really want to say anything,” Maglicco told the Tribune-Review. “But I feel good. I keep faith in God and am confident everything will turn out all right.”

He referred questions to his attorney, Douglas Sughrue, who declined to reveal the nature of his client's testimony. He said Maglicco testified with Marc Gergely's approval.

“We cannot comment on the pending investigations because we don't know the full scope of it,” Sughrue said.

As part of the illegal gambling investigation, authorities with the Attorney General's Organized Crime Unit and state police in December raided 70 locations, including bars, homes and banks, records show. They seized more than 350 gambling machines and about $1 million in cash.

Marc Gergely's office was not among the places searched, an investigator said.

On Nov. 8, an undercover female agent delivered a fictitious complaint to Marc Gergely's office stating that her husband had gambled away their life savings on illegal poker machines belonging to a man called “Porky.” The lawmaker's staff called him on a hunting trip in West Virginia to tell him of the letter, court fillings state.

Marc Gergely called Melocchi the next day.

The two chatted about tickets Melocchi provided the lawmaker for an unspecified game before Gergely told him about the woman's letter and her husband's gambling losses.

“Maybe you guys can identify, maybe you can identify who the guy is and get him stopped, you know what I mean,” Gergely said according to the transcript. “Before it becomes a problem.”

State campaign contribution records show Melocchi donated about $3,000 to Marc Gergely's campaigns between 2006 and 2013.

Marc Gergely said in his statement he donated an equivalent amount to Positive Pathways, an Elliott-based organization dedicated to helping people addicted to gambling. His statement did not say when he made the donation.

Melocchi contributed to other Mon-Yough lawmakers' campaigns, records show. Donations include $800 to Rep. Ted Harhai, D-Monessen; $400 to Rep. Bill Kortz, D-Dravosburg; and $2,200 in 2011 to state Sen. James Brewster, D-McKeesport.

Harhai and Kortz said they've returned the money to Melocchi. Brewster said he will donate his money to charity. The donation was for his annual golf tournament, Brewster said.

“I'm not endorsing any sort of criminal activity,” said Brewster, a former McKeesport mayor. “My knowledge of that (gambling) business is zero.”

Jason Cato and Pat Cloonan are staff writers for Trib Total Media. They can be reached at jcato@tribweb.com and pcloonan@tribweb.com.

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