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Attorney general charges 13 in alleged Allegheny-Westmoreland gambling ring

Jeff Himler
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The office of state Attorney General Josh Shapiro has charged 13 people, including residents of Allegheny and Westmoreland counties, with taking part in a gambling ring that involved illegal sports bookmaking and lotteries.

Based on a grand jury investigation launched in March 2015, with the Attorney General’s Office and state police, Robert Elia Iannelli, 88, of Wexford, and his son, Rodney Elia Iannelli, 58, of Pittsburgh, are accused of heading the ring.

They are charged with two counts each of corrupt organizations and dealing in proceeds of unlawful activities. They also are each charged with additional counts of illegal lotteries, bookmaking, criminal use of a communication facility and conspiracy.

Charged with corrupt organizations, illegal lotteries, criminal use of a communication facility and conspiracy are: James Roger Martorella, 69, of Pittsburgh, Victor Marchitello, 70, of Harrison City, Vincent M. Rapneth, 61, of Verona, Levi Wilson Helsel, 26, of Pittsburgh, Frank Joseph Pasquino, 74, of Irwin, Kathryn Venturini, 72, of North Huntingdon, and John James Harkins, 70, of Pittsburgh.

Kathryn Ayers, 43, of East Pittsburgh, is charged with illegal lotteries and conspiracy. Harry Ronald Stetson, 71, of Sharpsburg, is charged with corrupt organizations, bookmaking, criminal use of a communication facility and conspiracy.

Arden Keith Metcalfe, 62, of Monongahela, and Floyd A. Panella, 67, of Beaver, are charged with criminal use of a communication facility and conspiracy.

All are scheduled for arraignment Thursday Feb. 14 before District Judge Wayne Gongaware in North Huntingdon.

What prosecutors allege

According to an April 20 grand jury presentment released Friday by Shapiro’s office, investigators received information about the Iannelli enterprise from an informant, identified as R.P., who testified that he helped plan parties and family weddings for Robert Iannelli and the latter’s partner in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

R.P. told the grand jury he received monthly cash payments of $5,000 or $6,000 from one of the partners that he used to pay the wedding vendors, for costs totaling $30,000 to $40,000. R.P. said the payments were handled through him in an effort to conceal the partners’ illegal sports bookmaking business as the source of the funds.

R.P. testified that he began his own sports bookmaking business in 1993-94 and the Iannellis served as his “ bank.” He told the grand jury he received a percentage of wagers he forwarded to the Iannellis.

Expanding into the illegal lottery, or “numbers,” business, in the early 2000s, R.P. said the business grew to between $40,000 and $50,000 per week. He initially received 32 percent of the lottery wagers he brought to the Iannellis but increased his share to 50 percent.

The grand jury received testimony and evidence indicating the Iannellis and their partner used “workers” who received wagers from bookmakers via fax messages and phone calls and that bettors would play numbers based on the Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio lotteries.

Rodney Iannelli ultimately pleaded guilty to illegal lotteries on April 7, 2014.

R.P. arranged a meeting with the Iannellis in July 2015 at a Washington County restaurant and then began placing sports bets with the Iannellis on behalf of investigators.

From February 2016 until April 2017, investigators faxed illegal lottery wagers on a weekly basis to a telephone number Robert Iannelli provided to R.P.

Through court-ordered wiretaps, investigators determined that Venturini and her daughter, Ayers, were employed as “workers” in the gambling organization and that Venturini used her phone to fax and receive numbers sheets.

Another worker, who went by the nickname “Nikki,” testified she would receive numbers sheets, representing about $13,000 in wagers per week, and would fax them to “Angie,” a nickname investigators say was used by Venturini.

Wiretaps revealed that Ayers would frequently “lay off” part of a bet to “Luca,” whom investigators identified as Rapneth.

On April 12, 2017, a search warrant was served at the Helsel Insurance Group office, and Levi Helsel pointed out a fax machine and computer that were used to send numbers sheets, according to the presentment.

Investigators allege Venturini had “laid off” $3 of a $10 bet to Pasquino, on a number that “hit” for $50,000. Investigators said Pasquino then paid Venturini’s “boss” in the organization for Pasquino’s portion of the hit.

Investigators intercepted phone conversations discussing new numbers business that was going to be passed from Marchitello , through “Nikki” and Venturini, to Venturini’s boss, known as “Jake.”

According to the presentment, Martorella had individuals place bets with him, and he faxed the numbers to Venturini, from his business, Little J’s Publications. Investigators executed a search warrant at the business on March 20, 2017, and seized brochures for various state lotteries and sports schedules published by his business that detailed games to be played and had columns that could be used for betting purposes.

Panella, Metcalfe and Stetson were among those who placed sports bets with Rodney Iannelli, investigators allege.

Harkins, a nephew of Robert Ianelli, was another “worker” in the gambling operation, according to the presentment.

Investigators seized fax machines and betting documents from the homes of Harkins and several other defendants on March 20, 2017. A second search and seizure occurred April 12, 2017, at Harkins’ residence.

According to the presentment, Robert and Rodney Iannelli often used Chub’s Place, in the North Park area of Allegheny County, to meet with customers to exchange money.

Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, [email protected] or via Twitter @jhimler_news.