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Fourteen people face charges in gambling machine probe

| Sunday, March 2, 2003

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:

  • Doreen Ann Smith, 55, of Stanley Drive, Verona, for three machines at Doreen's Coffee Shop in the Ritzland Plaza on Frankstown Road

  • Susan Faye Lapiana, 60, of Kathy Lynn Drive, Plum, in connection with two machines at Morgan's Restaurant and Lounge on Rodi Road

  • Fred Alan Davis, 47, of Ebdy Street, Squirrel Hills, over four machines taken from Penn Hills News on Federal Drive in the Penn Hills Center

  • Robert H. Strauch, 62, of Nash Avenue, and Lawrence A. Scafuri II, 59, of Ninth Street, Oakmont, are both charged in connection with 10 machines at Silks on Frankstown Road. Authorities believe that the silk floral arrangement distributorship was also operating as a "casino-type gambling business."

    Ford's preliminary hearing is scheduled for March 17. Others tentatively scheduled for that day are:

  • Dawn Pratillo, 31, and Guy J. Pratillo, 59, both of Saltsburg Road, who were charged in connection with four machines seized at the Donut Shack on Frankstown Road

  • Mauro P. Matone, 60, with addresses on Shenandoah Drive and Spring Grove Road; James Posey, 50, of Woodward Avenue, Brookline; and John J. Lysakowski, 42, of Priestly Avenue, Carnegie, are all charged in connection with five machines confiscated at Mr. Ribbs on Rodi Road

  • Patty Ann Sylba, 42, of James Street, Verona, was charged over four machines operating in the lower level of the Fitness Center on Wildwood Road.

    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.

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