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Gaming official put on hot seat

Jason Cato
| Thursday, Jan. 12, 2006

The federal investigation into allegations of corruption in the Allegheny County Sheriff's Office didn't end with the November indictment of the department's No. 2 man.

Just before Christmas, the U.S. Attorney's Office and FBI interviewed former county police Superintendent Thomas Sturgeon, now deputy director of investigations for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

"He was asked to provide information, he provided information, and he was informed he was not the subject of an investigation," Sturgeon's lawyer, Alexander H. Lindsay of Butler, said Wednesday.

Federal authorities were investigating whether Sturgeon served as a go-between in a DUI ticket-fixing case involving a prominent businessman and Chief Deputy Sheriff Dennis Skosnik, who was charged Nov. 18 with money-laundering, bribery, witness-tampering and fraud.

U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan declined to comment.

Lindsay declined to say what information Sturgeon offered. He said his client did not appear before a grand jury, and he does not believe he will be asked to testify.

"As far as it goes with him, it's over," Lindsay said. "Whatever is going on, Tom ain't in their line of fire."

Skosnik, 54, is accused in court documents of fixing a DUI case involving William Slater II, the owner of Wm. Slater & Sons Inc., which operates eight funeral homes in the region.

Slater, 47, of Scott, served last year as Grand Warden of the 128,000-member Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania. Sturgeon was Junior Grand Warden under Slater. Pictures of both men, one showing them together on a boat on the Allegheny River, were available yesterday on the masons' Web site. They also appear in a group photo taken in the Bahamas.

Sturgeon, 63, and Skosnik, in addition to serving as top brass in two of Allegheny County's largest law enforcement divisions, also are neighbors in North Fayette. Though they now live about a half-mile away from each other, they lived six houses apart until 2003, according to county property records.

Slater was arrested by two sheriff's deputies in Oakland on Nov. 13, 1999, and cited with seven charges -- including drunken driving, fleeing and eluding and careless driving, according to an affidavit and criminal complaint. Tests showed Slater's blood-alcohol content was 0.139 percent. The legal limit for driving at the time was 0.10 percent.

District Judge Eileen Conroy dismissed all the charges after the deputies failed to appear for two preliminary hearings. Federal prosecutors allege that Skosnik and former sheriff's Capt. Frank Schiralli ordered the deputies to transport prisoners in Texas and Philadelphia on the dates the hearings were scheduled in order to keep the case from being prosecuted.

Buchanan and the grand jury have been investigating allegations of corruption in local government for nearly two years, focusing on the offices of former Mayor Tom Murphy, county coroner Cyril H. Wecht -- now the appointed medical examiner -- and Sheriff Pete DeFazio. The three men have not been charged.

Two other top deputies in the sheriff's office, however, have been indicted by the grand jury.

Schiralli was convicted of lying to the grand jury and soon will be reporting to a federal prison to serve a 26-month sentence. Another deputy, Lt. Cmdr. Richard Stewart, is awaiting trial on four counts of lying to the grand jury. Lawyers involved in the Schiralli case identified DeFazio and his executive assistant, Michael Mullen Jr., as targets of the grand jury probe.

Sturgeon, who has not returned at least a half-dozen phone calls to his Harrisburg office during the past five weeks, was police chief in North Fayette and later served as county police superintendent from 1997 to 2000. He then worked as regional director of the Bureau of Narcotics Investigation under state Attorney General Tom Corbett until taking a job with the gambling commission in August.

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