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Two accused of slots casino scam waive hearings

| Thursday, Oct. 15, 2009, 12:00 p.m.

The attorney for one of three men accused of rigging a poker machine at The Meadows Racetrack & Casino said that taking advantage of a glitch in a machine isn't a crime.

"If someone is smart enough to outwit a machine, is that a crime?" defense attorney Patrick Thomassey said. "I don't think it is. It might be cheating, but is it a crime?"

Thomassey's client Kerry Laverde, 49, and Andre Nestor, 37, both of Swissvale waived their rights to preliminary hearings this afternoon before District Judge Jay Weller in North Strabane. Both entered pleas of not guilty. A preliminary hearing for Patrick Loushil, 42, of Brookline was postponed.

The men are charged with manipulating a poker machine at the casino to collect $429,945 in fraudulent payouts. Authorities said the men started the scam in June and were arrested last week.

Casino officials began to suspect the men when Nestor, posing as a "high roller," began frequenting the casino in late June, officials said. Laverde, a former Swissvale police officer, acted as Nestor's bodyguard, officials said.

Washington County District Attorney Steven Toprani disagreed with Thomassey's assessment.

"There was money made out to the three defendants that they weren't entitled to," Toprani said. "It sounds like good, old-fashioned theft to me."

From late June through August, Nestor, Laverde and Loushil visited the casino 15 times, authorities said.

The investigation showed Nestor repeatedly used "a complex series of button presses and screen changes to cause the slot machine to have an error in its programming. This resulted in the machine displaying a false jackpot," according to the grand jury presentment.

Nestor always manipulated the poker machine alone, but all three men cashed out the winning checks, authorities said.

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