- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 2, 2016

GIBSONIA, Pa. (AP) - A Pennsylvania lawmaker accused of using his political influence to benefit an illegal video gambling ring has pleaded not guilty.

Democratic State Rep. Marc Gergely appeared Wednesday at his arraignment in the Pittsburgh suburbs. He signed a document to enter the plea, but didn’t speak.

Gergely was a key cog in an illegal video gambling operation that had some 335 machines at 70 restaurants, bars, bowling alleys and other locations outside Pittsburgh, according to charges announced Tuesday by the state attorney general.

The seven-term lawmaker is one of more than a dozen people charged in the case and Senior Deputy Attorney General Mark Serge said more people - including public officials - could be charged as the investigation continues.

“The allegations show what I would consider the insidious nature of organized crime,” Serge said after the arraignment. “You have relationship and money that tends to infiltrate the political system and individuals get caught up in that.”

Gergely drove up in a sport-utility vehicle and didn’t speak to reporters as he entered or left the courtroom. His attorney, Charles Porter Jr. said only, “We are not going to try it in the media. We’ll do our talking in court.”

The 46-year-old faces three felonies, including dealing in the proceeds of illegal activity and two counts of corrupt organizations, plus three misdemeanors.

District Judge Tom Swan scheduled a preliminary hearing for March 30 and allowed Gergely to remain free without posting bond.

A grand jury presentment says Gergely was part of a “super PAC” of marketing heavy hitters who persuaded business owners in and around McKeesport to allow the gambling machines in their restaurants, bars and bowling alleys.

The ringleader, Ronald “Porky” Melocchi, pleaded guilty and was sentenced last year to 10 years of probation. His McKeesport organization was raided in 2013.

Melocchi relied on his connections to local officials to persuade business owners to install the machines, with Melocchi getting 40 percent of the proceeds and the owners keeping the rest, the grand jury found.

“This is an ongoing criminal investigation, we do anticipate more charges in this matter,” Serge said. “It could involve other individuals that are involved in the political system and had any kind of relationships with Mr. Melocchi and his organization.”

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