A noisy debate over how a businessman now charged with perjury won a casino license went up a notch Tuesday, as Pennsylvania's top gambling regulator said police had no legal reason to stay silent about an investigation before licenses were awarded.
The comments by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board's chairwoman, Mary DiGiacomo Colins, appear to contradict the way the state police view what they were allowed to reveal about the investigation into Louis
But the situation could repeat itself if a change is not made, Colins said. One solution may be a law that allows law enforcement agencies, working through the state attorney general's office, to seek a judge's decision on whether certain investigative information can be shared with the gaming board, she said.
Still, no law prevented the state police from heading off a December 2006 vote on DeNaples' license by telling the gaming board, without revealing specifics, about their investigation into whether DeNaples lied to win a license, Colins said.
''It certainly does not stop law enforcement agencies from telling the regulators, 'We have an investigation ongoing and there's information you may want to consider later when we're finished,''' Colins told the House Appropriations Committee.
At the time, state police investigators were scrutinizing DeNaples' statements to gaming board agents about his relationship with Shamsud-din Ali, a one-time Philadelphia Muslim cleric, and a transcript of a telephone conversation between the two men that the FBI recorded in 2002. Ali is now in prison after a federal corruption investigation involving Philadelphia City Hall.
Lawyers for DeNaples, who opened Mount Airy Casino Resort in October, say the Scranton-area businessman is innocent, and have asked the Supreme Court to intervene in the case. In the meantime, the gaming board has barred DeNaples from the Pocono Mountains casino as long as the criminal charges are pending.
While the committee's hearing was called to review the gaming board's budget request, Colins made the statements in response to questions from Rep. Douglas Reichley, R-Lehigh. Reichley has written legislation calling for the attorney general's office to take a greater role in screening applicants for casino licenses to bridge what he calls a gap in information between the gaming board's civilian agents and law enforcement agencies.
Had the gaming board known about the state police's perjury investigation into DeNaples, the agency would have delayed consideration of his license, Colins said.
Asked for response, state police spokesman Jack Lewis released a statement that said a law enforcement agency cannot share information about a criminal investigation outside of law enforcement circles.
''The department is barred from sharing that information by the Criminal History Record Information Act,'' the state police statement said. ''In addition, the department would not want to share that information because any disclosure could compromise the outcome of the investigation.''
After the state legalized slot machines in 2004, state police officials made an unsuccessful pitch to the gaming board to screen all casino applicants, and warned that the gaming board's investigations would be incomplete without access to law enforcement files.
On Jan. 30, state police filed four perjury charges against DeNaples, accusing him of lying to the gaming board about his connections to Ali and three other men, including two alleged mobsters.
In a letter published in The Philadelphia Inquirer last week, the agency's former chairman, Tad Decker, accused state police of violating state law and agreements that compelled them to cooperate in the background checks of prospective casino owners.
Gaming chief disputes state police on DeNaples probe
Mary Colins says legal notice of investigation was possible.
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