Author discusses Rendell and new book on a northeastern mobster

Matt Birkbeck
Matt Birkbeck

Matt Birkbeck’s new book claims the Pennsylvania State Police investigated former Philadelphia mayor and Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell in the early 2000s for suspicion of rigging casino-license awards, but failed to find enough proof to file criminal charges against any of Rendell’s administration or against members of the state gaming board.

Slated for an Oct. 1 release, “The Quiet Don” follows the career of northeastern Pennsylvania mob boss Russell Bufalino. As the book twists through mob-associated business practices, Birkbeck unravels suspicions that Rendell pulled strings so businessman with mob ties would receive coveted gaming licenses. Gambling was legalized in the state in 2004.

Birkbeck follows the former No. 2 of the state police, Ralph Periandi, who called for the top-secret investigation and a meeting with Philadelphia’s FBI outfit after he surmised officials were trying to control the state’s new gaming industry.

Specifically, the investigation looked into Rendell’s affiliation with Louis DeNaples, a powerful businessman who was awarded a casino license for the Mount Airy Casino Resort in Mount Pocono, Pa., despite questions about his past.

A message left for Rendell was not returned, but he has long-denied involvement.

Metro: What did you find most interesting as you followed the trail of campaign donations?

MB: “Clearly there was a quid pro quo here, and it wasn’t just (businessman Thomas) Karam, but Karam gave the bulk of the money. Here’s a guy that was giving, at most, $5,000 a year in contributions. And the night before the (2001 gubernatorial) election, he gives Rendell $150,000. It’s a huge some of money, and there were other acquaintances of DeNaples who were also funneling money through Rendell who had never contributed before or who had contributed minimal amounts. So, clearly, there was a ton of money going into the Rendell campaign. And you can make your own assumptions about what it was all about.”

Metro: What was your overall impression of how Rendell handled the situation?

MB: “You know, Rendell is a consummate politician. And he’s very, very good at what he does. … And I think, though, he basically allowed other people, and I’m talking about other parts of his administration, to move this whole gaming initiative forward. He kind of stayed in the background. He had very few comments whenever the name DeNaples came up. I think at one time he said he knew Louie DeNaples, but for the most part (Rendell) stayed out of everything. His press people covered up for him.”

“For Rendell, he enlisted the powers that be, who knew how to move this through the legislature, through this bogus idea of reducing property taxes for the people of Pennsylvania through school taxes. And it was through this that they were able to have a reason to bring fourth an initiative that had been rejected by voters for decades. Gambling was first broached years ago and voters routinely said no. And they found a way to get it through. They stormed on some politicians to get it through and the rest is in the book.”

Metro: What most interested you about how Periandi conducted this investigation?

MB: “I thought it was really interesting that Periandi couldn’t go to the U.S. Attorney’s office because he thought they were corrupted. He couldn’t go to the attorney general’s office because he thought they were worthless. So he ends up going to the Philadelphia FBI and they assemble a meeting with all of their top guys, not just in Philly but throughout the state. And this was the time when they were doing their (Vince) Fumo investigation, which they didn’t tell Periandi about but they were interested in what Periandi had. And he didn’t even tell the commissioner because he knew how sensitive this was going to be.”

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