"Initially it was a small bill, 37 words, with no mention of slots. Suddenly, it was 140 pages long."
Ed Rendell was the Governor of Pennsylvania until 2011 so this isn't exactly ancient history and was considered a possible V.P. pick for Jim Kerry, alongside Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and Howard Dean.
It would have been hard to say whether Rendell would have turned out to be even more corrupt than John Edwards. But it's certainly possible.
Q: How did you start investigating corruption in Pennsylvania gaming?
Birkbeck: As I said, I was following the DeNaples investigation while I was working with the Morning Call. When he applied for a casino license it was questionable from Day 1. I knew several state representatives and they were complaining to me and they were telling me how this vote to approve the casino legislation took place on July 4, 2004 and it was forced on them. Initially it was a small bill, 37 words, with no mention of slots. Suddenly, it was 140 pages long.
In most states, including Nevada and New Jersey, if you're a convicted felon you can't be part of the gaming industry. DeNaples had pleaded no contest in 1978 to defrauding the federal government of $525,000. That was after his first trial was fixed by James Osticco, who was Russell Bufalino's underboss. Conveniently for DeNaples, someone put in a 15-year rule which meant he could apply for a gaming license.
Immediately after the legislation was approved, DeNaples announced he was buying Mount Airy Resort to build a casino, so clearly something was up.
Through the years, Pennsylvania had tried to introduce gaming to the state starting in the late '60s. Every time there was a referendum Pennsylvania voters would say "no." Those referendums were usually prompted by owners of the Pocono resort hotels and many of those resorts had mob ties.
The one thing I found at the time that was mind boggling: The amount of money that was going to Ed Rendell from people associated with DeNaples. DeNaples himself was barred from contributing, but there were people associated with him who out-of-the-blue were kicking in $50,000 to $100,000 to Rendell. From a handful of DeNaples's friends, Rendell got over $600,000. There was clearly a flow of money going to Rendell at the time.
When he first ran for Governor, Rendell sold this casino law as a cure for rising real estate taxes. That's how this thing was sold to the public. That was the lure. But my taxes haven't gone down, not significantly anyway. Have yours? It was a scam from Day One.
It would be interesting to dig even deeper into Rendell's tenure as Mayor of Philly where his PR campaign claimed that he had completely turned the city around.
But Rendell never really stopped taking questionable money.
A corruption investigation of public pension funds found that nearly $2 million was given in campaign contributions to elected officials who had influence over those investments. This included donations to the Governor of Pennsylvania Ed Rendell, a Democrat, by Blackstone Group chairman Steven Schwarzman, whose firm managed $2.8 billion of the state’s funds and took $129 million in fees.
Capitol observers were astounded when Gov. Ed Rendell called Democrat fundraiser Norman Hsu, a felon and then-fugitive, "one of the best 10 people I've met." They're likely more astounded now.
Incredibly, Rendell last week backed off the statement at his first Capitol news conference since the Hsu scandal surfaced. The governor threw in a heavy qualifier.
"First of all ... let me be clear: I said he was one of the 10 best people I've met in the field of political giving."
I wonder where Rendell ranked DeNaples.