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Warrant records detail evidence seized in Mon Valley gambling ring case

| Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013, 12:21 a.m.

Dozens of search warrants state prosecutors released on Tuesday detail the piles of cash, pay slips and debtor lists police found that led to charging 16 people in an illegal Mon Valley gambling ring.

Agents with the Attorney General's Office and state police confiscated nearly $110,000 worth of poker machines, cash and checks from businesses, banks and the home of Ronald “Porky” Melocchi, 54, of West Newton, accused of leading the ring, search warrant returns showed.

Other records revealed agents took a significant amount tied to Glassport Diner owner Catherine Gouker, 55, including $98,800 in cash from a safe in her Belle Vernon home and $77,000 in cashiers' checks at a Jefferson Hills bank.

In all, documents showed agents seized at least $200,000 in cash, machines and other assets from Gouker, who could not be reached for comment.

Said Melocchi's attorney, Bruce Carsia: “I haven't even seen those documents yet.”

Melocchi and retired McKeesport police officer Ronald Prest operated Back Alley Vending, prosecutors said. In addition to Prest, authorities last week charged two other former McKeesport police officers in the case.

Previously sealed search warrant records show agents visited the White Oak home of Prest, 65, on Dec. 11 as part of a raid. Authorities seized $22,000 in cash, a .40-caliber handgun, a notebook filled with gambling information and envelopes marked “Porky,” records show.

At Back Alley Vending, investigators recovered “owe” sheets, vendor lists, payoff slips, business records and documents pertaining to MMPP Investments Inc., a company registered in 2002 with the Department of State but listing no officers.

In searching Melocchi's Vernon Drive home, investigators recovered notebooks, ledgers, tax returns, other business documents and suspected marijuana, records show.

State prosecutors charged 16 people with gambling-related offenses in a multi-year investigation targeting Melocchi, a former McKeesport storefront they claim he operated as a gambling den and Back Alley Vending, a Glassport-based business that allegedly supplied illegal gambling machines to 70 locations.

Agents seized more than 350 gambling machines, $1.1 million and uncovered alleged ties to an illegal numbers racket and sports-betting ring.

Melocchi faces 57 charges, including four felonies. His preliminary hearing is set for Nov. 21.

“Maybe part of what was taken was derived from illegal sources and the rest came from a legitimate source,” Carsia said. “I just don't know yet.”

Melocchi owns Mama Pepino pizzerias in West Newton and McKeesport. In addition to gambling machines, court papers showed Melocchi told investigators he supplied equipment such as jukeboxes, pool tables and video games to bars, restaurants and clubs.

Jason Cato is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7936 or jcato@tribweb.com.

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