13 suspects in gambling ring appear in North Huntingdon court
For more than half a century, law enforcement has tied Robert “Bobby I” Iannelli to illegal sports betting and numbers lotteries throughout Western Pennsylvania.
Now 88, Iannelli, of Wexford, along with his son, Rodney “Rusty” Iannelli, 58, of Pittsburgh, is once again accused of heading a widespread gambling operation that prosecutors said brought in “tens of thousands of dollars a week.”
On Thursday, the pair — along with 11 other people — were arraigned before District Judge Wayne Gongaware in North Huntingdon on charges filed by the state attorney general’s office involving illegal sports bookmaking and lotteries dating back to 2015.
“We just received the paperwork today,” said Duke George, who is representing the elder Iannelli. “We have to go through the discovery process and see where we legally go forward from here.”
But family attorney Michael Foglia, who is representing the younger Iannelli, was quick to jump to the octogenarian’s defense when questioned by a reporter about Robert Iannelli’s long history with illegal sportsbetting and number games.
“His last incident was 25 years ago,” Foglia said.
Robert Iannelli was identified as an associate of Pittsburgh’s former LaRocca- Genovese La Cosa Nostra organization in a 1990 Pennsylvania Crime Commission report. By then, he had long been on investigators’ radar.
Newspaper archives show he was fined $100 in November 1959 after a Pittsburgh police racket squad found him and a brother with 21,000 football pool sheets. He was arrested several more times in the decades after, including a police takedown in the 1970s of an enormous sports betting ring operating out of his Ross Township home.
In his autobiography, “Where the Evidence Leads,” former Pennsylvania governor and U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh said the first successful wiretaps used in Western Pennsylvania took down Iannelli’s $15 million operation and led to the first prosecutions under the Organized Crime Control Act the following year.
Iannelli was found guilty and sentenced to three years in prison, according to news accounts. His refusal to testify before a federal grand jury in the 1970s about his associates got him 18 more months.
He was indicted in the mid-1970s and later sentenced to two years in prison after being convicted on gambling counts. After a quiet decade in the 1980s, Iannelli made headlines again in 1990 when he was arrested as the kingpin of a multi-county organized crime operation.
Investigators wiretapped cellphones to intercept conversations in the $7 million sports and numbers betting ring, news accounts at the time said. Iannelli was convicted of conspiracy, bookmaking and illegal lotteries and sentenced to eight to 23 months in prison.
Neither Iannelli said anything during their arraignment Thursday. Preliminary hearings for all the defendants are set for Feb. 26.
Attorney Patrick Thomassey of Monroeville, who represents two defendants from Westmoreland County — Frank Joseph Pasquino, 74, of Irwin and Victor Marchitello, 70, of Harrison City — said he was surprised the state would devote three years of resources to such an investigation.
“It’s a gambling case. It’s been a long time since I’ve had one of these,” Thomassey quipped. “I guess if the state does it, it’s OK, but if a private citizen does it … it’s illegal. We’re going to have to investigate the laws further and see what we can do with these charges.”
The Iannellis are charged with two counts each of corrupt organizations and dealing in proceeds of unlawful activities. They also are charged with counts of illegal lotteries, bookmaking, criminal use of a communication facility and conspiracy.
Others are accused of various involvement in the ring.
Charged with corrupt organizations, illegal lotteries, criminal use of a communication facility and conspiracy are James Roger Martorella, 69, of Pittsburgh; Marchitello; Vincent M. Rapneth, 61, of Verona; Levi Wilson Helsel, 26, of Pittsburgh; Pasquino; Kathryn Venturini, 72, of North Huntingdon; and John James Harkins, 70, of Pittsburgh.
Kathryn Ayers, 43, of East Pittsburgh is charged with illegal lotteries and conspiracy. Harry Ronald Stetson, 71, of Sharpsburg is charged with corrupt organizations, bookmaking, criminal use of a communication facility and conspiracy.
Arden Keith Metcalfe, 62, of Monongahela and Floyd A. Panella, 67, of Beaver are charged with engaging in poolselling/bookmaking.