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Why it’s a big deal that Kathleen Kane dropped a probe into a mobbed-up businessman (Opinion)

In 2007, I sat across the former deputy commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police and listened intently in a corner booth at some out-of-the-way diner as he spoke about his deep mistrust of the state attorney general’s office.

Ralph Periandi, who had just retired from his position as the second-highest-ranking state police official, didn’t mince words as he relayed how, two years earlier, he bypassed the attorney general’s office (presided over by future Governor Tom Corbett) in Harrisburg and drove straight to Philadelphia to speak with the FBI about Louis DeNaples.

Specifically, Periandi told the FBI that the Rendell administration was getting ready to issue new casino licenses and had stacked the deck in favor of DeNaples, a very rich and powerful businessman from the northeast corner of the state with longstanding ties to the Mafia.

I remember asking Periandi to explain why didn’t he go to the attorney general with this. Here’s what he told me:

“I just couldn’t trust them,” he said.

And here’s why that’s a big deal: The Philadelphia Inquirer’s scoop, which says Kathleen Kane stopped an investigation into DeNaples’ gaming empire, isn’t just a one-day story. DeNaples is a northeast Pennsylvania institution, with a history of buying friendly politicians — possibly the governor, and certainly a Congressman, not to mention some of the highest-ranking state and federal law enforcement officials.

I should know. I wrote a book about it — my 2013 book, The Quiet Don, which was ostensibly a history of Mafia kingpin Russell Bufalino (who, among many other misdeeds, gave the order to kill Jimmy Hoffa). But the book also relayed how Bufalino’s legacy included the passing of his corruptive influence onto DeNaples.

That context is important. As the Inquirer piece described, Kane allegedly stepped in and quashed a subpoena compelling DeNaples to testify in 2013 before a grand jury, which was probing a DeNaples’ lackey who had been placed within the state gaming control board.

Periandi went on to explain that the attorney general’s office wasn’t so much a law enforcement agency as it was a political sieve where investigations into the rich, powerful and politically connected leaked out and died. Sound familiar?

Periandi said that had he brought his concerns about gaming to the attorney general’s office, the probe would have been disclosed to Rendell and stopped dead in its tracks. As it was, DeNaples was eventually indicted in 2008 by a Dauphin County grand jury thanks to the gutsy District Attorney Ed Marsico, who had lined up a DeNaples’ crony, William D’Elia, to testify that he and DeNaples had enjoyed a professional and business relationship that lasted over 30 years.

D’Elia wasn’t some Mafia wannabe: He was the real thing, a stone cold gangster who served as Bufalino’s driver and bodyguard and later ran the Bufalino family business following The Don’s death in 1994.

Marsico was later forced to cut a deal with DeNaples and drop the charges once he realized that, in addition to having Rendell on his side, DeNaples could also count on the state supreme court, which did everything in its power to thwart Marsico’s probe. (Another fun fact: Tom Marino, the former U.S. Attorney in Harrisburg and Scranton, was forced to resign in disgrace in 2007 after he had given DeNaples a personal reference for his gaming application. With DeNaples’ support, Marino later became a U.S. Congressman, where he’s now serving his third term).

While this all sounds like some fantastical, fictional tale, it’s not.

And that’s the scary part.

Matt Birkbeck is the author of The Quiet Don: The Untold Story of Mafia Kingpin Russell Bufalino. 

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