NORTH HUNTINGDON — Attorney General Josh Shapiro today announced charges against two men for operating an illegal gambling enterprise involving 126 illegal video poker machines in 25 bars in Westmoreland and Fayette counties that led authorities to seize over $660,000 in cash and other assets.
“Operation Bar Bluff”, a nearly three-year investigation by the Pennsylvania State Police, working with the Office of Attorney General and a statewide grand jury, led to today’s charges against James Tartal, 54, and Edward Deluca, 50, both of Scottdale, for operating a corrupt organization, dealing in proceeds of unlawful activities, conspiracy and illegal gambling devices under Pennsylvania law.
“This was organized crime and big business in Western Pennsylvania, and today we’ve shut this illegal gambling enterprise down,” said Attorney General Shapiro, joined at a news conference in North Huntingdon by the Pennsylvania State Police and prosecutors from the Office of Attorney General. “These defendants took in hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal proceeds, while law-abiding businesses played by the rules. That’s unfair and against the law and it’s organized criminal activity.”
Tartal and Deluca operated an illegal gambling enterprise called Zucco Vending that placed poker machines in bars and clubs throughout Westmoreland and Fayette counties. The Pennsylvania State Police identified poker machines paying out illegal winnings in bars and clubs in the Fall of 2014. The machines were owned by Zucco Vending.
Undercover agents played at the poker machines at several bars and received illegal cash payouts during their investigation.
Two aspects of the Zucco Vending poker machine operation made them illegal under Pennsylvania law.
The first were the illegal cash payouts at the bars where they put the machines. When a poker machine player accumulated enough credits from playing, they went to the bar owner and received a cash payout in return – that’s illegal.
The Zucco Vending machines were flush with cash because the players knew they were playing for illegal payouts, so they played more and spent more in hopes of winning cash in return.
“That was the lure of the payout that made this illegal gambling enterprise so lucrative,” Attorney General Shapiro said.
The second reason the machines were illegal is they were all equipped with internal “knock off” devices. Once a player accumulated credits and went to receive their cash payout, the machines would “knock off” the credits – clearing the way for the next gambler. Those knock-off devices are illegal.
Tartal and Deluca removed illegal proceeds from the poker machines and took their cash to local warehouses and also to a PNC Bank branch in Scottdale.
In August 2015, the State Police executed search warrants and seized 126 illegal gambling devices at 25 bars and clubs in Westmoreland and Fayette counties controlled by Zucco Vending.
Investigators seized $312,000 in cash from a safe in a hidden room in Tartal’s home. Investigators seized another $84,000 in cash from a warehouse in Scottdale. And, a total of $241,422 in five bank accounts controlled by Zucco Vending at PNC Bank were frozen by police. PNC Bank was responsive to law enforcement’s requests for information.
The Office of Attorney General, working with the State Police, brought this investigation to a Statewide Investigating Grand Jury, which heard testimony and reviewed evidence over the last year and a half about this illegal gambling enterprise, and recommended the charges filed today.
“The charges today represent the culmination of a nearly three-year investigation initiated by members of the Compliance, Auditing and Gambling Enforcement (CAGE) Unit after receiving tips from the public about unlawful gambling activity,” said Major Scott T. Miller, director of the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement. “We are grateful to the Office of Attorney General Josh Shapiro and the grand jury for their continued efforts to fight illegal gambling in the Commonwealth.”
Attorney General Shapiro commended the law enforcement collaboration in the case. “The Pennsylvania State Police did painstaking work over several years to build this case, and worked closely with our office and the statewide grand jury that led to these charges,” Shapiro said. “We thank them for their work.”
Tartal and Deluca turned themselves in to authorities today for preliminary arraignment and further legal proceedings. The investigation is ongoing. Prosecution of Tartal and Deluca will be led by Senior Deputy Attorney Generals Mark Serge and Katie Wymard.
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