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State Rep. Marc Gergely will be sentenced Nov. 6 for his connections to a gambling ring that was broken up by investigators in 2012.
Gergely, 47, of White Oak, on Tuesday pleaded guilty before Allegheny County Judge Ed Borkowski to criminal conspiracy and violating state election laws by accepting cash contributions in excess of $100. Both charges are first-degree misdemeanors carrying penalties of not more than $10,000 in fines or five years' prison or probation.
Related charges of participating in a corrupt organization, conspiracy to participate in a corrupt organization, dealing in proceeds of illegal activity and criminal attempt to operate illegal gambling devices were withdrawn by prosecutors.
Gergely represents the 35th Legislative District, which includes Clairton, Duquesne, Lincoln, McKeesport, Munhall, South Versailles Twp., Versailles, Whitaker, White Oak and part of West Mifflin. He was first elected to the seat in 2002 and was re-elected last year after defeating McKeesport City Councilwoman Fawn Walker-Montgomery, who was running as a Republican.
Pennsylvania's constitution forbids people convicted of an "infamous crime" from holding elected office in the state. Gergely's present term ends in January 2019 and an election for the 35th District seat is scheduled for next year.
If Gergely resigns from office before the end of his term, Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai would be allowed to call for a special election to fill the remaining months in the term. The state constitution does not set a deadline for when the special election must be held.
In December 2012, investigators from the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office and Pennsylvania State Police raided more than 70 homes and businesses, mostly in the Mon Valley, seizing records, receipts and more than 300 illegal video poker machines, along with more than $1 million in cash. Investigators dubbed the raid "Operation Pork Chop."
In September 2013, a grand jury indicted 16 people, including a retired police officer, a former McKeesport city councilman and a former McKeesport Area school director, with running an illegal gambling ring in three counties.
The man accused of leading the gambling ring, Ronald "Porky" Melocchi of West Newton, pleaded guilty in 2014 to running a corrupt organization, operating illegal gambling devices and bookmaking. He was sentenced to 10 years' probation.
In 2016, the state attorney general's office charged Gergely after prosecutors alleged that Gergely and Washington County attorney Louis Caputo formed part of what Melocchi supposedly and jokingly called his "Super PAC," short for "political action committee."
Prosecutors accused Gergely and Caputo of using their positions to encourage reluctant business owners to accept video poker machines from Melocchi's company, Back Alley Vending. In at least two cases, state investigators allege, Gergely personally met with bar owners to urge them to accept machines from Melocchi.
In a sting operation in November 2012, investigators sent a letter to Gergely's legislative office in White Oak, purportedly from a woman named "Barb" who said her husband was gambling away all of the family's money in video poker machines operated by Melocchi. The letter pleaded for help from Gergely.
Instead of turning the letter over to authorities, prosecutors said, Gergely called Melocchi to warn him.
Caputo pleaded guilty Tuesday to criminal solicitation of illegal gambling devices and was sentenced by Borkowski to five years' probation.
Originally published August 16, 2017.