White Oak family accused of running illegal gambling operation
Four members of a White Oak family surrendered Thursday in Westmoreland County to charges they ran an illegal video poker operation for over three decades.
A statewide grand jury alleges that Robert Biros, 83, and his adult children — John, 56; Christine, 55, and Andrew, 52 — were “involved in operating their illegal video gambling enterprise in bars, clubs and stores throughout (Allegheny and Westmoreland) counties from at least the early 1980s through the present,” according to the 18-page presentment.
The family said little during a hearing Thursday before North Huntingdon District Judge Wayne Gongaware as they were arraigned on charges of participating in a corrupt organization, dealing in proceeds of an illegal activity, illegal operation of gambling devices, illegal possession and maintaining gambling devices and criminal conspiracy. The charges were filed by state police and agents from the attorney general’s office.
The family members told Gongaware that they had not hired an attorney. All were released on signature bond. Later, at the request of agents from the attorney general’s office, they voluntarily drove to the Greensburg state police barracks to be fingerprinted.
Family patriarch Robert Biros initially declined to comment as he departed Gongaware’s office, saying he had not reviewed the charges.
“But the whole story hasn’t come out yet,” he said. “It’s fake.”
State attorney General Josh Shapiro said the investigation began in 2011 when state police and liquor control enforcement officers conducted an inspection of an establishement in Allegheny County and seized 8 illegal poker machines belonging to the Biros family.
“Today we’ve ended an illegal video gambling operation run by one family for over three decades,” Attorney General Shapiro said. “These defendants raked in millions of dollars in illegal profits, draining money from Pennsylvanians – and from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. These video poker machines – with the lure of the cash payout – are illegal gambling devices. Working with our partners in the Pennsylvania State Police, we’ve shut it down.”
Ronald M. “Porky” Melocchi, 59, of West Newton, the convicted mastermind behind a multi-million dollar McKeesport area gambling ring that operated throughout the Mon Valley, was among those testifying before the grand jury and detailed the Biros family operations, according to the presentment. Melocchi was sentenced in 2015 to 10 years probation by Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Joseph K. Williams III.
The convicted mastermind behind a multi-million dollar McKeesport-area gambling ring that operated throughout the Mon Valley testified before the grand jury and detailed the Biros family operations, according to the presentment. Ronald M. “Porky” Melocchi, 59, of West Newton, was sentenced in 2015 to 10 years’ probation.
“Melocchi testified he learned about the illegal video gambling machine business from Robert Biros,” the grand jury said. “Melocchi was initially employed as a mechanic who would repair and service vending machines.”
The grand jury noted that Melocchi worked for the elder Biros from 1983 until 1990 and later would collect illegal gambling machine proceeds from stores, clubs and bars where the family had their machines.
Melocchi told the grand jury that he started his own business, Back Alley Vending, in the 1990s after he became “angry” when the elder Biros refused to properly license machines that were in Melocchi’s name throughout Pittsburgh, which got him into trouble with city officials.
Melocchi’s 2013 arrest in Operation Pork Chop eventually resulted in the arrest and conviction of former state Rep. Marc Gergely, a White Oak Democrat who pleaded guilty to charges related to the illegal gambling ring. He was sentenced in December to 18 months of house arrest and three years of probation, according to court documents.
Melocchi pleaded guilty in 2013 to a felony count of running a corrupt organization and misdemeanor counts of gambling devices and bookmaking.
The grand jury also heard evidence that many vending competitors couldn’t compete with the Biros operation, according to the presentment. The family would offer “$10,000 to $15,000 up front” to entice business owners to allow them to place machines in their locations, the grand jury reported.
The presentment also alleges that Biros associate Alfred McCauley Jr., 63, of Pittsburgh, attempted to get the family’s foot in the door with investments in a proposed race track and casino project in Lawrence County that never was built. McCauley, who is charged in the gambling conspiracy, was not arraigned Thursday.
According to the presentment, agents searched the family’s residence in White Oak and seized about $140,000 in cash. They later executed 18 search warrants at various establishments and confiscated more than 100 video machines, according to the presentment.
A preliminary hearing is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 20.
Paul Peirce is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-850-2860, [email protected] or via Twitter @ppeirce_trib.