The food was great.
The politics were hard to swallow.
That’s why would-be state lawmaker Kyle Mullins might have done himself more harm than good.
Nobody will tell me how much money notorious convicted felon Louis DeNaples raised for a mysterious Catholic charity at an April 29 private party at Mt. Airy Casino in Monroe County. With a chipper Diocese of Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera by his side, DeNaples played host and shook hands with the invitation-only crowd of between 100 and 200 people who networked in a spacious gambling hall conference room, according to sources.
Was DeNaples repenting for his sins? After all, the 77-year-old multi-millionaire Dunmore businessman once ruled Mt. Airy with an unbridled and unchecked reputation for power. Then DeNaples careened from grace, brought down by law enforcement allegations of Mafia connections he still denies.
Gaming regulators won’t even let him shovel snow at the casino.
Commonwealth Court judges in January turned down DeNaples’ request for permission for businesses in which he has an ownership interest to do business at the casino, including snow removal. That ruling is directly linked to prosecutors yanking DeNaples’ prestigious gaming license because they accused him of lying during a background investigation about his ties to organized crime. Dauphin County prosecutors eventually charged the provincial tycoon with four felony perjury counts but dropped those charges in exchange for DeNaples turning over casino control to members of his family.
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board said DeNaples is welcome to help his own cause if he clears up some of the confusion surrounding mob allegations against him by “answering questions regarding the alleged false statements he made to the Board during the 2006 investigation and showing that the allegedly false statements were either misunderstood or not problematic in his license application. However, DeNaples has not done so.”
That quote comes right out of the Commonwealth Court decision.
Of course, DeNaples still refuses to explain his testimony.
DeNaples denies ever having a relationship with the late Russell Bufalino or federal ex-convict, snitch and well-established Mafia adviser Billy D’Elia. A U.S. Senate committee once described Bufalino as ”one of the most ruthless and powerful leaders of the Mafia the United States.” D’Elia took control of the crime family when Bufalino died, according to law enforcement officials.
All seemed forgiven at the nonpublic party, though, when one well-heeled lawyer after another, one affluent businessman after another, one see-through government official after another paid tribute to the man shrouded in money and secrecy running a fundraiser for a Church to which he has contributed untold amounts of money for decades.
In addition to hardened DeNaples loyalists, wannabe elected official Mullins attended the blowout thrown by Northeastern Pennsylvania’s most notorious landfill operator.
Mullins, a Democratic candidate for the state House of Representatives 112th Legislative District, said he attended the party as a guest of a friend in the real estate business and the “St. John Neumann Society.” Of the five 112th candidates running in the Democratic primary, Mullins said he was the only one who attended the party. All those candidates have publicly opposed DeNaples’ fight to expand his landfill capacity. One crucial aspect of that fight is currently headed to Lackawanna County Court.
“I didn’t ask (DeNaples) for anything and he didn’t offer anything,” said Mullins, who worked as state Sen. John Blake’s legislative director and for other state Capitol officials before resigning to campaign. Mullins said he shook DeNaples’ hand on the way into the party and did not have a conversation with him.
Judges also attended the party said a defensive Mullins, but when asked their names, clammed up and said he couldn’t remember.
Lackawanna County President Judge Michael Barrasse failed to respond to two emails and a phone message asking if he attended the secured and restricted event. A well-respected, high-profile Luzerne County lawyer who attended the event said he saw Barrasse at the exclusive gathering. A second Lackawanna County judge also failed to respond to two emails asking whether he, too, attended DeNaples’ celebration.
Mullins, 32, who campaigns on the “dire need for real, principled leadership in Harrisburg,” said he considered the event a good place to meet voters. He ignored the fact that associating with wealthy donors might help scratch his itch for public office. Mullins said he did not contribute money to the St. John Neumann Society.
The society, itself, remains something of a dark puzzle.
“Checks were made payable to ‘St. John Neumann,’ ” said the Luzerne County lawyer. “Maybe I wrote St. John Neumann Society,” he said, adding he planned to investigate to see exactly where his money went.
A “St. John Neumann Society” exists in Philadelphia and a “Cardinal Newman Society” exists nationwide. Scranton Diocese spokesman Bill Gennello failed to respond to two emails and a voicemail about whether the “Society” is part of the Diocese and if Bambera attended the DeNaples soiree. Neither Barrasse nor the other Lackawanna County judge responded to questions about whether they belong to the society.
The Luzerne County lawyer said he received a form letter invitation signed by DeNaples, who also sent him a thank-you letter after the event and his contribution. When asked why DeNaples sent him a letter, the lawyer said his name must have appeared on a donor list. VIPs in attendance included men with deep political, family and business roots in Wilkes-Barre, Dunmore, Shickshinny, Hazleton and the Scranton area, sources said.
“Mostly from Lackawanna County,” the Luzerne County lawyer said.
“The capicola was good,” he said. “So was the salami.”
Slices of political bull were gamy, though, for everybody except insiders served the choicest cuts – people civic skeptics reject as Northeastern Pennsylvania’s real, principled leadership.
Steve Corbett is a longtime journalist in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Reach him at [email protected]