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Priest jailed after testifying about mob ties

Jan 8, 2008 5:30 AM

Since gaming was approved by the Pennsylvania legislature in 2004, some odd stories have emerged.

One now involves the Roman Catholic Church”¦or at least one of its priests.

The story revolves around one successful license recipient named Louis DeNaples, who late last year opened the Mount Airy Casino Resort in northeastern Pennsylvania, the only stand-alone slots facility in the state, so far. All other slots licensees, who are currently operating, are doing so at horse tracks.

DeNaples pleaded no contest in 1978 to a felony charge of conspiracy to defraud the federal government in a case involving government payments to clean up the aftermath of Hurricane Agnes. He was fined $10,000 and was placed on probation.

Because of that conviction, unsuccessful gaming applicants appealed DeNaples’ license saying he was unfit to be a gaming operator. The gaming regulators disagreed and so did the courts.

After all, DeNaples was a wealthy Scranton-area businessman who had his fingers in such enterprises as diverse as banking and garbage disposal.

But the authorities have charged that DeNaples also has underworld connections and that he lied about them before a federal grand jury.

That’s where Rev. Joseph F. Sica, 52, comes into the act.

Father Sica also is believed to have more than a passing acquaintance with crime boss Russell Bufalino and other associates of ill-repute.

Prosecutors brought Father Sica, the chaplain at a Scranton hospital, before the grand jury that is hearing evidence against DeNaples. Thee priest testified he barely knew Bufalino and had no relationship with him. But the grand jury was shown pictures of the priest walking arm-in-arm with Bufalino and with William D’Elia, another underworld figure.

The grand jury recommended that the priest be charged with perjury. He was taken into custody last week and later released on $20,000 unsecured bail.

He now becomes a key figure in the grand jury probe of DeNaples who also is to have committed perjury by denying his relationship with Bufalino.

A spokesman for DeNaples noted that when Father Sica was a child he was taken in and raised by the DeNaples’ family. But he denied that there was any underworld connection.

At the bail hearing for the priest, Fran Chardo, a deputy district attorney, told the judge that Father Sica owns a handgun, "which struck me as odd," and had $1,000 in cash on him when he was arrested.

The Scranton Diocese said Father Sica had requested and was granted a leave of absence.