State police went mining for a Pot O’ Gold from illegal gambling machines on a freezing Wednesday early evening, May 23, 2018.
They allege they found it – nearly $3.5 million in cash – in the Brighton Township home of Robert Michael McDanel, according to court documents.
But troopers from the state Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement, (BLCE), Compliance, Auditing and Gambling Enforcement (CAGE) Unit were just getting started in that quiet cul-de-sac off Tuscarawas Road.
They claim they seized another $5,062 from McDanel’s 2017 silver Cadillac SRX SUV and $191,143 from his company’s Beaver Falls office/warehouse, and they froze a total of $287,600 in his three accounts at Huntington National Bank.
Nearly 15 months later, McDanel, 63, of Fernwood Dr. is scheduled to be formally arraigned in Beaver County this week on three felony counts related to running a corrupt organization and illegal gambling, and two misdemeanors related to the operation of illegal gaming devices and conspiracy.
According to court dockets, McDanel is free on a $2,500 unsecured bond. He waived his preliminary hearing last month and faces trial possibly in October.
McDanel was the big fish for police in that aptly named Pot O’ Gold sting of illegal gambling devices across Beaver County.
Ultimately, officers confiscated 247 devices from 30 bars and clubs. Eighty-six were distributed, controlled and maintained by McDanel’s MAC Vending Co., police said. Officers took another 32 from MAC’s warehouse at 1429 Fifth Ave., Beaver Falls.
A judge with the 43rd Statewide Investigating Grand Jury had issued the search warrants for 30 liquor establishments – 18 allegedly contained McDanel’s machines – as well as the four search warrants targeting McDanel’s home, warehouse, vehicle and bank accounts.
The Grand Jury later recommended the charges against McDanel. This is the same Grand Jury that has been hearing evidence about possible public corruption in Beaver County.
Officers also filed sting-related charges against two Beaver Falls-area men they said owned Marsico Vending – Michael Roger Mangerie, 56, and George Gerald Seifert, 56.
The pair had been accused of supplying 46 devices at 10 of the raided liquor establishments.
Their charges were dismissed on July 17 with court records citing Seifert’s death.
The state Attorney General’s Office was not available to provide further details about why Mangerie’s charges were also dismissed.
County Coroner David Gabauer refused to release any information about Seifert’s death. “We do not give out that information,” a woman in the office said after contacting Gabauer. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has previously ruled such information constitutes a public record and that coroners do not have discretion to decide whether or not to release it upon request.
OPERATION POT O’ GOLD
Investigating officer, Trooper Joseph Krawizcki has been a statie since 1995 and assigned to the BCLE CAGE unit since Christmas Eve 2011.
The morning before the May 23, 2018 raid, Krawizcki got the 34 sealed search warrants from the supervising judge of the state Grand Jury.
His investigation had begun on Oct. 16, 2017, he explained, according to the Grand Jury presentment.
He began the investigation because he’d found that from 1995 to 2017, BLCE officers had seized from licensed liquor establishments approximately 96 illegal video gaming devices that were owned and maintained by MAC Vending Co.
BeaverCountian.com could not locate any records showing that McDanel was ever charged in those seizures, and officials with the Attorney General’s Office were unavailable to comment.
But those previous seizures set Krawizcki on McDanel’s trail. “The target of the (May 23, 2018) raid was the MAC Vending Company and its owner Robert McDanel,” he told the Grand Jury, according to the presentment.
Krawizcki told the Grand Jury that McDanel’s machines were simulated slot machines similar in appearance to the legalized slot machines found in the state.
“These simulated slot machines appear to have three wheels that spin; however, they actually have nine wheels,” said told the panel. “Another difference is the presence of a ‘knock-off’ feature,” which resets the number of credits on the machine to zero following a payout.
The metering or accounting makes the machine a gambling device with the sole purpose of illegal gambling, he said. Casino games, horse track betting, small games of chance, the lottery and bingo are the only legal means of gambling in the state, he said.
Starting in February 2018, troopers started physical and electronic surveillance of the machines and of McDanel. In many locations, undercover officers played the machines and got payouts. In other locations, they observed others getting payouts.
In April 2018, officers watched McDanel arrive at two different county bars/clubs and collect MAC Vending’s share of the alleged illegal proceeds – which they said was approximately $22,000 a week.
They noted McDanel took the money from the gaming devices, then mingled it with cash he took from legitimate machines such as dartboards and pool tables.
Grand Jury testimony alleged he commingled the money in part to disguise the true source of illegal proceeds.
Krawizcki said McDanel generally split the proceeds 50/50 with the bar/club owners. On one occasion, the bar owner got 60 percent of the proceeds.
Officers followed McDanel in his silver Cadillac afterward to his warehouse and his residence, and on other occasions to the bank. He carried in a thick knapsack and carried it out looking much thinner, Krawizcki said. Another time, he carried in thick envelopes and came out with nothing in his hands.
Krawizcki told the Grand Jury that the owners of the 18 bars/clubs found to contain the alleged illegal machines told officers they received from $100 to $2,750 a week from McDanel’s machines.
On Feb. 22 of this year, the Grand Jury recommended the charges against McDanel.
The state Attorney General’s Office will prosecute the case in Beaver County.
Court dockets show McDanel is being defended by attorney Laurel Brandstetter Gift, whose specialty in part was prosecuting gaming cases as a former senior deputy attorney general with the AG’s office and a former Allegheny County assistant district attorney. Gift’s husband, Robert, serves as a Supervisory Special Agent with the Insurance Fraud Section at the Office of Attorney General in Pittsburgh.
“Illegal gambling is a serious problem in Pennsylvania,” said Major Scott T. Miller, director of the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement at the time charges were announced.
“The owners and operators of illegal gambling devices are making millions of dollars from players without oversight to ensure fairness or any public interest purpose designation for the proceeds generated.”
BeaverCountian.com investigative reporter John Paul contributed to this report.