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Melocchi pleads guilty to leading McKeesport gambling ring

| Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014, 11:44 a.m.
Ronald Melocchi
Ronald Melocchi

McKeesport area gambling ring mastermind Ronald M. “Porky” Melocchi pleaded guilty Wednesday to a felony count of running a corrupt organization.

Melocchi, 55, of West Newton pleaded guilty before Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Joseph K. Williams III to two misdemeanor counts, one of distributing gambling devices and one of engaging in sports pool selling, or bookmaking.

In return, state Senior Deputy Attorney General Michael M. Ahwesh withdrew three other felony charges and 51 other misdemeanor charges including 48 counts of distributing gambling devices.

“The plea speaks for itself,” Ahwesh said. “He was the leader. It was his organization.”

Melocchi made no statement other than answering the judge's questions, including a response of “Yes, Your Honor,” to the query, “Are you pleading guilty because you are guilty?”

After Ahwesh said, “There is no agreement as to a sentence at this time,” Williams scheduled a sentencing hearing for Dec. 1 at 9 a.m.

“We will be able to present any witness on behalf of my client,” defense attorney Bruce A. Carsia said. “We will present character witnesses. Ron was very visible in the community over the past years. He helped a lot of people in the community, in charitable organizations.”

Ahwesh has led most of the prosecution of what Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane's office has called Operation Pork Chop. It produced 13 guilty pleas before Wednesday, all on misdemeanor counts, leading to probation in 11 cases.

Two of the 11 defendants were ordered to pay restitution. In two other cases, only fines were imposed. In all cases, court costs were assessed; for some they totaled more than $1,000.

Two nonjury trials remain. Forward Township police Chief Mark P. Holtzman, 58, of McKeesport and Clairton Municipal Authority member James Cerqua, 56, of Clairton are scheduled to go before Judge Donald E. Machen on Oct. 22. They are charged with two counts of corrupt organization and one count of gambling devices and dealing in proceeds of illegal activity. Cerqua is charged with pool selling and bookmaking, and Holtzman is charged with conspiracy.

Melocchi was president of McKeesport's recreation board, which is responsible for planning events such as an Easter egg hunt, fishing derby at Lake Emilie, the Labor Day weekend rib cook-off, Halloween and Salute to Santa parades and the annual Festival of Trees.

Another member of the board is Operation Pork Chop co-defendant and city Councilman Daniel K. Carr. On July 30 Carr pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor counts tied to gambling devices in the Viking Lounge.

Melocchi and Carr worked together in other venues, including the committee organizing McKeesport's annual International Village. Melocchi's name turned up as a donor to other events such as the annual Lions Auction for Diabetes.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or pcloonan@tribweb.com.

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