Commissioner Cerilli won’t comment on campaign money from dead man tied to massage parlor prostitution ring
Westmoreland County Commissioner Gina Cerilli on Monday refused to comment on $1,900 in donations her campaign received from a deceased family friend implicated in a human trafficking and prostitution ring at area massage parlors.
According to campaign finance records, Cerilli received four donations from Henry “Sonny” Caruso dating to 2015, including a $500 gift made in August.
Caruso, 49, of Mt. Pleasant committed suicide in November after he was suspended with pay from his job as a guard at Westmoreland County Prison. Cerilli, along with fellow commissioners Ted Kopas and Charles Anderson, voted for Caruso’s suspension. County officials said the suspension came after they were notified Caruso was part of an ongoing grand jury investigation into human trafficking allegations.
Criminal charges were filed last week against Caruso’s wife, Hui Xu, 44, and four others involving allegations of prostitution and human trafficking at five businesses in Monroeville and Murrysville. Caruso’s wife is the owner of four Tokyo Massage parlors where investigators said women were bused in from New York to work as prostitutes.
Sonny Caruso was named in the grand jury presentment. Investigators said his bank accounts were used to launder proceeds from the massage parlors, that he drove women from bus stops to work at the businesses and money from the criminal enterprise was used to pay for Caruso’s vehicles and his daughter’s college tuition.
Doug Chew, a Republican candidate for county commissioner, on Monday called for Cerilli to turn over the money Caruso donated to her campaign to organizations that fight human trafficking.
“People of this ilk should never be allowed to contribute into our political system. I’m frankly surprised that Ms. Cerilli, who is on the county’s prison board and knew Mr. Caruso was being investigated the month before his death, has not taken it upon herself to reject this donation to her campaign already,” Chew said.
Cerilli came to Caruso’s defense days after his death. During a public meeting of the prison board, she gave an emotional statement in support of Caruso, a man she then described as a friend, and attempted to have Warden John Walton fired for his role in investigating the grounds for Caruso’s suspension.
On Monday, Cerilli refused to discuss Caruso, his donations to her campaign or Chew’s call for her to relinquish the money.
“I’m not going to comment on anything Doug Chew says,” Cerilli said. “What he has to realize is he’s got to get through his primary before he faces me.”
Chew is one of seven Republicans seeking two party nominations. Cerilli and Kopas are unopposed for the two Democratic nominations.
A review of campaign finance reports dating back to 2015 found no other candidate for county offices received donations from Caruso.
While refusing to comment on Caruso’s donations to her campaign, Cerilli also declined to discuss her friendship with Caruso and his family.
“Out of respect for his daughter and wife, I won’t comment,” Cerilli said.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .