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Pittsburgh attorney plays key role in Gergely grand jury presentment

Megan Guza
| Wednesday, March 2, 2016, 10:27 a.m.
State Rep. Marc Gergely
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Tribune-Review
State Rep. Marc Gergely

Porky had a problem, and Louie was a man who could find a solution.

Someone was ratting out Teresa Ploskina for having video gambling machines in her Dot's Family Restaurant in McKeesport.

Ronald “Porky” Melocchi, who ran an illegal gambling ring through his Glassport business, Back Alley Vending, wanted to know who because it was interfering with getting Ploskina into his revenue fold.

Melocchi turned to Pittsburgh attorney Louis F. Caputo, who had a source deep inside the state police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement, to identify the rat.

According to a statewide grand jury presentment released Tuesday, Caputo's confidential source revealed the name of the man repeatedly reporting Ploskina to police, and the liquor attorney shared that information with Melocchi.

In 1977, the year Caputo was born, his grandfather, Charles N. Caputo, was accused of gaining access to confidential state Liquor Control Board records and using them in his private law practice, which often involved defending liquor license holders. State officials ultimately declined to prosecute. The elder Caputo, a former state representative, drew criticism for representing liquor interests at the state level while a seated legislator. He was reportedly co-owner of a pornography store in Dauphin County, and his friendships and campaign backers included men with ties to the mob and crime underworld.

Louis Caputo has not been charged. Calls to Caputo's office were not returned.

Melocchi pleaded guilty in 2014 to his part in the ring. He was sentenced last year to 10 years of probation.

The recent grand jury presentment supported charges against Rep. Marc Gergely, who pleaded not guilty to felony counts of being part of a corrupt organization at an arraignment Tuesday.

A spokesman for the attorney general said the investigation is ongoing and more charges are expected.

Once Louie Caputo helped his friend track down the man scaring Ploskina away from operating the gambling machines, they had a second problem: What to do about it.

In transcripts of tapped cellphone calls, Melocchi expressed his reluctance to “just beat a guy up” to Caputo.

“I'll handle it with kid gloves. I promise you that,” Melocchi said, according to the transcript. “You know that I'm not a violent person.”

Caputo replied: “Pork, do whatever you gotta do, but I mean like keep in your mind too that these reports were over a year ago, so ...”

The presentment does not indicate what, if any, action was taken against the man, who is not named in the court records. Melocchi suggested he might mollify the man with Steelers tickets. According to the grand jury, Caputo offered to pay for the tickets, but Melocchi declined, saying he'd take care of it because “you take care of me all the time.”

The grand jury presentment claims Melocchi relied heavily upon the influence of Gergely and Caputo — he called the two his “Super PAC” — to try to persuade business owners to install illegal video gambling machines in their establishments.

In his conversations with Melocchi regarding the McKeesport diner, Caputo indicated identifying who was reporting Ploskina was less about protecting the restaurateur and more about showing the Super PAC's muscle.

“I mean I want her to know, so she knows that we have that kind of information available to us, you know what I mean?” Caputo said, according to the transcript.

He told Melocchi to make sure he let Ploskina know they had the identity: “Nobody else coulda got that information, they don't let that stuff out.”

Investigators eventually met with Caputo after they alerted him to the fact he was a potential target in the investigation. He admitted to investigators that he used a friend, a civilian state police employee, to get the name of the man who reported Ploskina.

“Caputo further admitted to investigators that he was not acting as Melocchi's attorney when he met with Ploskina and other(s) but rather was hoping to gain their business,” according to the presentment.

He also gave up the name of his LCE source, Charles Rubino, who told police he knew Caputo both personally and professionally.

Rubino also admitted to investigators that it would be against agency policy to give out that information.

Then he said he had no idea what investigators were talking about.

“Rubino claimed that he did not recall talking to Caputo on the day in question and that to the best of his knowledge, he did not divulge the identity of the complainant to Caputo,” according to the presentment.

Rubino told investigators that if he had done such a thing, it would have been by “sheer mistake because that is something that we just do not do.”

Rubino has been suspended without pay, said Maria Finn, state police spokeswoman.

Caputo's promises to protect business owners who put Melocchi's machines in their businesses fell flat on at least one occasion.

On Dec. 11, 2012, bowling alley owner Brian Saunier was on a flight to Charlotte when he found out investigators seized illegal video gambling machines from two of his bowling alleys.

Eighteen days earlier, Caputo had assured Saunier the machines were completely legal, as they paid out tickets that could be redeemed for gift cards rather than straight cash, according to the grand jury presentment. He likened the gambling machines to playing skee ball.

“(Saunier) was reassured that Caputo would handle all legalities and he would not be burdened by anything related to the machines,” the presentment states. Caputo further promised that because of his LCE connection, “We'll already know before anything would happen.”

Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8519 or mguza@tribweb.com.

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