article that appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette by Tracie Mauriello struck the inquisitive brain cells. -Zappalas hold posts at casino association
During the final days of state budget negotiations, a flurry of press releases was sent to media, letters were sent to lawmakers and radio ads were sent over airwaves, all advocating low tax rates and license fees for casino table games.
One statement threatened that four large casinos would sue the state if smaller ones were allowed to increase the number of slot machines at their locations.
The communications all emanated from The Pennsylvania Casino Association, which has been run for the last two years by former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Stephen A. Zappala Sr. and his daughter Michele Zappala Peck, who is running for Allegheny Common Pleas Court.
Although The Pennsylvania Casino Association incorporated in May 2007, it's been virtually invisible until this month even though it is in the hands of a powerful and prominent political family with ties to Harrisburg power brokers.
The article describes former Justice Zappala's role in the non profit association. It appears to make the case that his actions were not that much dissimilar to those of a lobbyist. Zappala's ties to Vincent Fumo are mentioned as an example of his connections that may be beneficial to gaming interests. Then it gets more interesting.
Chuck Hardy, who represents Pittsburgh's The Rivers casino on the association's three-member board, signed the 2007 and 2008 tax returns that give the association federal tax-exempt status. He said he was never involved in any discussion about keeping the Zappala name off public records.
Mr. Hardy -- who works for the Philadelphia law firm Sprague & Sprague and said he is counsel for Philadelphia's SugarHouse casino -- said the 990 tax forms were prepared by an accountant. He said he didn't believe Mr. Zappala needed to be included on the required listing of officers, directors, trustees and key employees because he wasn't "the kind of officer you needed to report."
IRS filing instructions, however, stipulate that executive directors are among those who must be listed along with officers who have voting rights and employees who control an organization's activities or finances.
For those that don't recall, Richard Sprague presided over former Judge Ann Lokuta's case. He also represents Robert Powell, key figure in the Luzerne County corruption scandal. Sprauge refused to recuse himself in the Lokuta proceedings.
Sprague also represented Powell and PA Child Care in a 2004 lawsuit against Luzerne County Controller Stephen L. Flood, over his opposition to the county's $58 million contract with PA Child Care.
In a filing by Lokuta she makes the following assertions.
"Judge Sprague and his law firm have committed years of representation to the task of protecting the interests of Powell, PA Childcare, and their associates, and keeping their activities from public scrutiny in the light of day," Lokuta's 133-page filing says. "Judge Sprague's control over the record in this matter afforded him the opportunity to continue to shield Powell, PA Childcare and their associates from disclosures that -- while supporting Lokuta's contentions and defenses -- would have exposed the illicit conduct in which Judge Sprague's clients were participants."
In case you didn't catch it, Richard Sprague is Chuck Hardy's boss. If you read the entire article you will discover that Richard Sprague is part-owner of the SugarHouse casino. What a tangled mess. The part that is intriguing is how small a world it is when the same names keep coming up over and over again in what should be unrealted issues.
"Mount Airy owner Lisa DeNaples is a member of the board along with Mr. Hardy and Mr. Hardy's boss, Richard A. Sprague, who is part-owner of SugarHouse and is a powerful Philadelphia lawyer who has represented prominent power brokers including Mr. Fumo.
Jonathan D. Silver contributed to this report. Tracie Mauriello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 717-787-2141. Follow her at www.twitter.com/pgpolitweets