Fourteen people face charges in gambling machine probe
The first mayor of Penn Hills is among more than a dozen people facing preliminary hearings this month in the aftermath of a crackdown on illegal video gambling machines last fall.
Nearly 50 machines were seized after state police raided 10 businesses in Penn Hills in September, culminating an investigation that took more than a year, as agents looked for evidence of illegal payouts.
That included Johnny Mike's Bar on Rodi Road, owned by John W. Ford Jr., 60, of Hawthorne Drive in Penn Hills. In 1976, Ford became Penn Hills' first mayor when the community switched from the previous township form of government to a home-rule municipality, serving one term.
Fourteen people -- owners, operators or employees of the businesses -- are facing identical sets of four charges of keeping gambling devices, allowing gambling, solicitation or invitation to gamble and allowing gambling on the premises of a business. All are considered first-degree misdemeanors punishable by up to five years in prison.
All remain free on their own recognizance after Penn Hills District Justice Leonard Hromyak mailed out court summonses earlier this year, which did not require bond being set.
Since buying the bar, Ford had paid the municipal licensing fee for four video devices that are billed as being played "For Amusement Only."
But state police claim that the machines are "merely electronic extensions of the mechanical slot machine."
The investigation of Johnny Mike's Bar dates back to November 2001, when undercover state police said they paid a visit during a Steelers-Browns football game. They said they noticed a football pool sheet on the bar, then saw the proprietor take a number and give an unknown amount of money to a patron.
Ford could not be reached for comment.
A total of $6,000 was also seized from all of the machines, as well as suspected payout slips.
Three defendants have preliminary hearings scheduled for Monday before Hromyak. Robert A. Jones, 60, and Kathleen Kirby Jones, 59, of Lime Crest Road, Wilkinsburg, are charged in connection with four machines seized at Duke's Bar on Tulip Drive. Harry D. Zourelias, 51, of Willow Drive, Plum, is charged in connection with four machines seized from Inn The Ruff Bar & Restaurant on Saltsburg Road.
Preliminary hearings are scheduled for March 10 for:
Ford's preliminary hearing is scheduled for March 17. Others tentatively scheduled for that day are:
State police earlier noted that machines were not seized from Mohan's Bar & Restaurant at Universal and Saltsburg roads, because it could not be proven that credit points were being "knocked off" and payouts were being made.