Two county commissioners and the county solicitor are refusing to talk about a May meeting they attended with several controversial figures, allegedly part of discussions about a casino and publicly-funded convention center project.
BeaverCountian.com has found two key takeaways from its investigations: the possible floating of a $40 million public bond at a time of fiscal distress, and the involvement of a businessman specifically barred from any casino activity by the state because of alleged mob-links.
According to two sources with knowledge of the May meeting, those in attendance included disgraced former state representative Mike Veon, Pat Nardelli of Castlebrook Development, former county solicitor Joseph Askar, and former casino magnate Louis DeNaples.
County Solicitor Garen Fedeles confirmed that he and Republican Commissioner Dan Camp and Democratic Commissioner Tony Amadio signed nondisclosure agreements (NDA) with Mount Airy Casino & Resort prior to the May 17 gathering at Seven Oaks Country Club in Ohioville.
Camp said Veon and DeNaples were at the meeting but would not comment on what was discussed, citing the NDA. He insisted the issue of building a convention center was not discussed, but after being pressed he admitted that other conversations about a publicly funded convention center have taken place.
“That is something the commissioners might consider doing,” Camp said.
Camp also confirmed information from confidential sources that he’d previously met with DeNaples at an April meeting at the Mount Airy Casino & Resort in the Poconos. Fedeles accompanied Camp to that meeting, as did officials from Big Beaver Borough Council, including that borough’ solicitor, Shannon Steele, who is a partner in Fedeles’ law firm.
Camp said that he did not think it was “a big deal” that discussions were taking place about building a convention center, because before doing so the Board of Commissioners would have to hold a public vote.
Amadio did not return a detailed message seeking comment. Fedeles declined to provide public comment about those in attendance at the May meeting or what was discussed.
DeNaples, a wealthy Scranton-area businessman, was granted one of the state’s first casino licenses in 2006 and founded Mount Airy. A Dauphin County Grand Jury indicted him in 2008 on four perjury charges for allegedly lying about mob ties when he was granted the license. He agreed to turn over legal control of Mount Airy to a trust headed by his daughter in 2009 in exchange for the dismissal of the charges against him.
DeNaples, who owns or is top officer in dozens of Northeastern Pennsylvania companies, was in court earlier this year seeking approval to enter into contracts with Mount Airy to collect garbage and plow snow. The Commonwealth Court denied his request, citing his lifetime ban from having any business dealings with gaming, or profiting directly or indirectly from it.
Republican County Commissioner Sandie Egley said she was unaware of who Camp and Amadio met with before talking with BeaverCountian.com. Egley said she refused to sign the NDA and has not been fully briefed about the discussions.
“I will just say that if I had signed the nondisclosure and I walked into the room and saw those players I would have walked right back out,” Egley said. “There are people you do business with and then there are people that you don’t. That’s as respectful as I can be.”
Egley said she believed the meeting should have been held in public.
“I am for economic development, but the process is what bothers me. Nondisclosures may be legal to sign, but ethically I just could not do it. This is something that should have been vetted through the public. That is how I feel.”
Veon, formerly of Beaver Falls, served 22 years in the Legislature before losing re-election in 2006. He was found guilty in 2010 and sentenced to six to 14 years in prison for using taxpayer resources for political campaigns. In 2012, he was sentenced to another one to four years for misusing state grants to the nonprofit Beaver Initiative for Growth (BIG), which he co-founded.
Veon was paroled in 2015 after serving five years in prison. His conviction on conflict-of-interest charges in the BIG case was later overturned by the state Supreme Court. Veon now works as a lobbyist and government relations consultant. He’s said he now lives in Pittsburgh.
Askar has been a figure of contention for the current Board of Commissioners since BeaverCountian.com published an investigative report in June 2017.
The article revealed that Askar as county solicitor oversaw the sale of the county-run Friendship Ridge nursing home in Brighton Township, then began representing the facility’s new corporate owners after the sale was finalized but while still serving as the county’s head attorney.
Egley subsequently filed a complaint against Askar with the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. Camp and Amadio refused to sign on to the complaint, which is still pending.
Askar previously made headlines in 2014 after he pleaded his Fifth Amendment Right against self-incrimination during a hearing in the FBI’s case against Nick Trombetta, the convicted former head of Pennsylvania Cyberschool in Midland. FBI testimony revealed that Askar had been a “target subject” of its ongoing investigations, but he was never charged with any criminal wrongdoing.
Askar is the son-in-law of Pat Nardelli, a prominent developer. Federal agents previously probed links between Trombetta and Nardelli, who was involved in a Midland building boom that resulted from the growth of PA Cyber. Nardelli denied any wrongdoing in his associations with Trombetta and was never charged with a crime.
Camp has called Askar a “close personal friend,” and politicos say he has been a de facto senior adviser to Camp since he was elected commissioner. Camp has previously acknowledged to BeaverCountian.com that he has met with Askar an average of several times each week since taking office.
Mount Airy Casino & Resort won a competitive bid for a mini-casino license from the state in February of this year. The company bid $21.1 million to open a facility that is permitted to operate up to 750 slot machines, and after paying an additional fee of $2.5 million, run up to 30 table games.
Beaver County commissioners announced in April that Mount Airy was considering building the casino on land in Big Beaver Borough, associated with Nardelli, along with locations in Lawrence, Butler, and Mercer counties.
In addition to the casino issue, a well-connected individual in the county’s business community — who spoke on condition he not be identified — told BeaverCountian.com that county commissioners were having private discussions about building an adjacent convention center.
“Dan Camp is secretly plotting to float a $40 million bond to use taxpayer monies in the construction of a convention center,” alleged the source. “The construction of this facility is secretly being used to entice the casino to come to Beaver County and all of it has been done without the public’s knowledge. Dan’s buddies will make a fortune off of the deal if it happens.”
Earlier this month, BeaverCountian.com reported on a confidential draft copy of a report critical of the county’s existing high level of debt and its poor credit rating.
The report by Public Financial Management (PFM) Consulting Group, funded by a grant from the state as part of its Early Intervention Program, projected the county will face a $5.4 million deficit in the general fund beginning in 2019.
The PFM report said that deficit will grow by roughly $2 million each year through 2023.
A New York City public relations firm listed as the press contact for Mount Airy Casino & Resort did not return a voicemail message seeking comment about the meeting and DeNaples’ involvement with the company.
In the meantime, Egley is calling on all of this to brought into the light.
“These types of things that government does in the background are not good for the public. It is their tax money, I do not understand the logic behind doing things in secret. Haven’t we all learned anything from the Friendship Ridge deal?”