WILKES-BARRE — The house always wins, and it beat Robert Pellegrini at his own game of stealing from his employer.
The admitted gambler who held an executive post at Mohegan Sun Pocono casino before his scheme unraveled received a 32-month prison sentence Friday in federal court for his guilty plea to conspiracy to commit money laundering.
It was more than the year his attorney asked for and less than the 57 months Pellegrini faced at the high end of sentencing guidelines for the felony charge.
He also must make restitution of $420,147 to the casino.
“I’m a flawed man,” Pellegrini, 51, of Fairview Township, said as he stood before U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo.
“I’ve made mistakes in my life, this being the biggest,” Pellegrini said.
It wasn’t unusual to lose between $10,000 and $30,000 when he gambled at casinos, he told the court.
“I didn’t steal to pay my bills. It was to support my gambling,” said Pellegrini, who held the position of vice president of player development at the Plains Township venue.
When asked later how a person with a gambling addiction and attending a Gamblers Anonymous program could hold such a high position at a casino, defense attorney William Ruzzo said, “Where do you think casino workers go on their days off? They go to other casinos.”
Pellegrini and two others were charged last year in the scheme that ran from May 2014 to April 2015 and involved the theft of personal information numbers from gamblers. The numbers were then used to create duplicate rewards cards with $478,000 in free play credits. A Back Mountain man gambled with the cards and split the winnings with Pellegrini and a former cocktail waitress at the casino who stole the PINs.
The other participants, Mark Heltzel of Dallas and Rochelle Poszeluznyj, also pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing.
Pellegrini’s attorneys Ruzzo and Michael Butera argued for leniency for their client, calling family members on his behalf. Wife Jodie said her husband works a factory job and earns much less than he did at the casino. They have three children, including a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old. She asked the judge to consider the effect of taking him out of the household and sending him to prison.
“I ask you for mercy,” she pleaded.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Olshefski challenged Ruzzo’s argument that Pellegrini did not have a position of trust at the casino and his sentence should not be enhanced for abusing his position.
“The only person above him was the president,” Olshefski said.
Even though others at the casino were notified by email every time he issued a free play, they looked at it as Pellegrini doing his job as vice president in charge of taking care of the needs of high rollers, she said.
“He had unfettered access to all free plays and they trusted him to do his job,” said Olshefski.
Greed motivated him to steal from his employers, and phone records depict him as the ringleader of the scheme, telling the other participants to get busy because he has bills to pay, she said. While he was stealing money, he had hundreds of thousands of dollars in a bank account and securities, Olshefski added.
Judge Caputo told Ruzzo he didn’t agree with his argument. But the judge acknowledged he was persuaded by the numerous letters in support of Pellegrini.
Caputo said the letters he receives typically state that “Mr. X is a great guy.”
“Your letters were somewhat different,” pointing out things Pellegrini did that were commendable, Caputo said.
He allowed Pellegrini to remain free until July 10 and said he would recommend that he serve his sentence at a prison close to home.
Reach Jerry Lynott at 570-991-6120 or on Twitter @TLJerryLynott.