EASTON — The Pennsylvania State Police ran a top-secret investigation into whether then-Gov. Ed Rendell and his administration rigged the outcome of the casino licensing process to benefit favored applicants, including a wealthy and politically connected businessman suspected of having mob ties, a new book asserts.
But the probe failed to lead to criminal charges against anyone in the administration or on the state gambling board, and prosecutors blamed the state Supreme Court for thwarting the investigation, according to “The Quiet Don,” a forthcoming book by Matt Birkbeck that also serves as the first full-length biography of reclusive northeastern Pennsylvania mob boss Russell Bufalino.
Birkbeck covered the troubled beginnings of Pennsylvania’s casino industry as a newspaper reporter, and here he pieces together the years-long effort by state police and local prosecutors to probe whether corruption was involved in the awarding of the lucrative casino licenses. The narrative emerges from interviews with dozens of participants, including now-retired Lt. Col. Ralph Periandi, the No. 2 official in the Pennsylvania State Police.
Periandi initiated the probe in 2005 because he suspected that “Rendell, members of his administration and others in state government might be trying to control the new gaming industry in Pennsylvania,” Birkbeck writes.
Rendell did not return a call for comment. He has long denied any impropriety.
The book follows Periandi and his small, secret “Black Ops” team of covert investigators as they dig into the gambling board, the Rendell administration and Louis DeNaples, a powerful northeastern Pennsylvania businessman who’d been awarded a casino license despite questions about his suitability.
DeNaples was eventually charged with perjury in January 2008 for allegedly lying to state gambling regulators about whether he had connections to Bufalino — the titular “quiet don” — and other mob figures. Prosecutors later dropped the charges in an agreement that required DeNaples to turn over Mount Airy Casino Resort to his daughter. DeNaples has long denied any ties to the mob.
Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico agreed to the DeNaples deal because “the Supreme Court had interfered in his case twice already, and he feared that no matter what he did, the court would see to it that the DeNaples prosecution would never move forward,” Birkbeck writes.
The author said investigators “basically stepped on a bee’s nest” when they went after DeNaples.
Chief Justice Ronald Castille did not return a call placed to his office. He has rejected similar allegations about Supreme Court interference in the gambling industry as ludicrous, slanderous and irresponsible.
“The Quiet Don” traces Bufalino’s ascent to mob boss, including his role in organizing the infamous 1957 meeting of Mafia leaders in Apalachin, N.Y., his control of the garment industry in New York and Philadelphia, and his control of the Teamsters union and its leader, Jimmy Hoffa.
The book asserts that it was Bufalino who ordered a hit on Hoffa, a claim also made in the 2004 Mafia memoir “I Heard You Paint Houses,” in which confessed mob hitman Frank Sheeran said he killed Hoffa on Bufalino’s say-so.
Hoffa disappeared in 1975; his body has never been found.
What’s new here is the reason: Birkbeck writes Bufalino was upset by a 1975 Time magazine article that linked him, for the first time, to the CIA’s attempts to enlist the Mafia to kill Cuban leader Fidel Castro, and he feared Hoffa would tell Senate investigators what he knew about the failed plot.