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Local Developers Arrested, Charged in Video Poker Investigation

By Jason Togyer
The Tube City Almanac
July 26, 2018
Posted in: Crime and Police News, White Oak News

Five people, including members of a White Oak family connected with several local real estate developments, have been accused by state Attorney General Josh Shapiro of running an illegal video gambling operation for more than 30 years.

Robert Biros, 83, of White Oak; his sons, John M. Biros, 56, of McKeesport and Andrew R. Biros, 52, of Greensburg; and his daughter, Christine A. Biros, 55, of White Oak are charged with multiple counts, including violating state gambling laws and criminal conspiracy.

Also facing charges is Alfred J. McCauley Jr., 63, of Plum.

“These defendants raked in millions of dollars in illegal profits, draining money from Pennsylvanians --- and from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” state Attorney General Josh Shapiro said Thursday afternoon in a prepared statement. “These video poker machines --- with the lure of the cash payout --- are illegal gambling devices. Working with our partners in the Pennsylvania State Police, we’ve shut it down.”

The four Biroses were arraigned Thursday before Magisterial District Judge Wayne Gongaware in North Huntingdon Twp. and released on their own recognizance.

A preliminary hearing has been scheduled for Aug. 28 at Gongaware's office.

McCauley was still being sought by investigators on Thursday night and had not yet been arraigned, according to court officials.

An attempt by Tube City Almanac to reach the Biros family by phone was not successful, and the name of a defense attorney was not listed on court documents. A message left Thursday evening for Robert Goldman, a Castle Shannon attorney whose name appears in the grand jury presentment, was not immediately returned.

The public face of the Biros family has been real-estate development.

A limited-liability corporation registered at Christine Biros' office in White Oak owns a shopping center --- long under construction --- at the corner of Route 48 and Walnut Street in Christy Park.

According to published reports, Christine Biros was previously a partner in a company called American Harness Tracks, which planned to build a horse racing track and casino in Lawrence County. State investigators claim that the Biros family intended to use profits from the alleged video poker operation to help fund the casino project.

One of the original investors in American Harness Tracks, Daryl Price, had a history of operating illegal video poker machines, according to a 2011 story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

In the grand jury presentment unsealed on Thursday, prosecutors claim that Robert, John and Andrew Biros attempted to coerce bar and restaurant owners into giving false testimony to a grand jury investigating the alleged video poker operation.

One unnamed witness said that after she was subpeonaed to appear before the grand jury, Andrew Biros asked her to testify that she had never paid out any winnings.

"I was like, 'I'm not lying,'" the witness said, according to the grand jury presentment. "'I'm not going to jail for you.'"

According to the presentment, the investigation into the Biroses began in 2011 when state police and Liquor Control Enforcement officers inspected a social club in Versailles and confiscated eight video poker machines.

The poker machines were equipped with so-called "knock-off devices" that record credits and allow winners to receive payouts, the presentment said. The payouts are illegal under state law.

The club's manager allegedly told investigators that he split the proceeds from the machines with Robert, John and Andy Biros.

According to the presentment, prosecutors allege that the Biros operation competed with a video poker ring that was run by Ronald "Porky" Melocchi.

That ring, shut down as part of a state investigation dubbed "Operation Pork Chop," eventually led to the arrest in September 2013 of 16 people, and later snared former state Rep. Marc Gergely of White Oak.

Melocchi testified before the grand jury investigating the Biroses that he originally worked for Robert Biros, beginning in 1983, servicing video poker machines in Allegheny and Westmoreland counties.

Melocchi testified that started his own business, called "Back Alley Vending," after a 1990 falling-out with Robert Biros. It was "Back Alley Vending" that state investigators raided and shut down in 2013.

Investigators began surveillance on the Biroses and McCauley in 2013 and continued until 2015, the presentment states.

On May 21, 2015, according to the presentment, state investigators armed with a search warrant visited Robert Biros' residence in White Oak and seized $140,000 in cash, along with records they said were related to the video poker business.

Less than a week later, state police and agents from the attorney general's office and the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board raided 18 clubs, restaurants and bars where they allege that illegal video poker machines, owned by the Biroses, were located.

According to Shapiro, John Biros had removed circuit boards from some of the poker machines before police got to them, while McCauley is accused of warning some bar owners about the raids.

Robert Biros, John Biros, Andrew Biros and Christine Biros are charged with being involved with a corrupt organization, dealing in the proceeds of unlawful activities, criminal conspiracy, obstruction of justice and operating illegal gambling devices.

McCauley is charged with being involved with a corrupt organization, criminal conspiracy and violating gambling laws.

“Thanks to strong law enforcement collaboration with the Pennsylvania State Police, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board and the effective use of a statewide investigating grand jury, this illegal gambling enterprise is over,” Shapiro said. “We’ll hold these defendants accountable --- and seek restitution as well.”

Originally published July 26, 2018.

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