APNewsBreak: DOJ source says no record that House candidate got OK to serve as reference

By Pete Yost, AP
Friday, September 17, 2010

Doubts surround Pa. candidate’s business reference

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — The U.S. Justice Department has no record that a former federal prosecutor in Pennsylvania received permission to serve as a personal reference for a businessman seeking a state casino license, as the now-candidate for Congress has claimed, according to a department source.

Republican Tom Marino, who is running in Pennsylvania’s 10th Congressional District, told a radio interviewer in April that his Justice Department superiors authorized him to act as a reference on Louis DeNaples’ 2006 casino application — at a time when DeNaples was under investigation by Marino’s office.

A Justice Department source, who spoke on condition of anonymity to freely discuss the case, told The Associated Press there is no record of Marino having received the permission.

The Marino campaign has said he received written DOJ permission. But Marino has refused to produce the letter his campaign says he received. He said in a statement Friday, in response to an AP inquiry, that he is not authorized to release “documents related to my service as United States Attorney.”

“While I am confident that the release of certain documents would end this matter, I understand the sensitive nature of these documents and the important role that the Department of Justice has in keeping us safe,” the statement said.

DOJ spokeswoman Jessica Smith declined comment Friday.

Marino resigned as the top federal prosecutor for central and northeastern Pennsylvania in 2007, shortly after The Morning Call of Allentown reported that he had allowed DeNaples to use him as a reference in his ultimately successful bid for a casino license.

Marino later went to work for DeNaples, making about $250,000 per year as in-house counsel for DeNaples’ non-casino business interests before resigning to launch his House bid.

The friendship between Marino and DeNaples — who was convicted of a felony in 1978 and has been investigated for possible ties to organized crime — has emerged as a major issue in the congressional race. The campaign of incumbent Democratic Rep. Chris Carney began airing a TV ad this week attacking Marino over his connection to DeNaples, and Democrats have lampooned the Republican nominee as “Casino Marino.”

The burgeoning controversy stems from Marino’s April 28 appearance on WILK-AM radio host Steve Corbett’s show. Corbett asked him about the DeNaples reference.

“Did you have to tell any of your supervisors that you were acting as a reference?” Corbett asked.

“Yes,” Marino said.

“And did you?”

“Yes,” Marino said.

Later in the interview, when Corbett asked Marino if he thought it was ethical to have vouched for DeNaples, Marino replied he had “vetted it, and was satisfied with the vetting process.”

Corbett said that after his live interview with Marino, he was told by Marino’s campaign manager, Dave Weber, that Marino would supply a letter from the Justice Department backing up the claim about the DeNaples reference.

The Associated Press repeatedly asked the Marino campaign this week for a copy of the letter.

In Friday’s statement, Marino claimed to have been been in contact with the Justice Department and was “informed … that these documents are confidential and are the property of the Department.”

The Carney campaign has called on Marino to release the letter he says he has.

Carney’s 30-second TV spot, which is airing on local broadcast and cable channels, notes that Marino served as a reference for a “convicted felon” while he was a prosecutor, and that Marino later worked for him “for a quarter million dollars a year.” The ad does not identify the felon, but leaves little doubt it is referring to DeNaples.

“Marino says he was authorized to give the felon a reference and has a letter to prove it, but he refuses to release the letter,” the narrator intones. “Marino — what’s he hiding?”

The ad also plays up the “Casino Marino” label with fleeting images of slot machines and poker chips.

The Marino campaign responded by calling Carney’s ad misleading — though it did not say why it was misleading — and denouncing the incumbent as showing a “complete lack of basic human decency.”

“During the last two days, as Chris Carney has unblushingly and continuously attacked my ethics and personal character, I have been dealing with my daughter’s treatment for cystic fibrosis. Her health and welfare is my top priority right now,” Marino said in a statement Thursday.

DeNaples was charged with perjury in January 2008 for allegedly lying to state gambling regulators about whether he had connections to organized crime. Prosecutors later dropped the charge in an agreement that required DeNaples to turn over Mount Airy Casino Resort to his daughter. DeNaples has long denied any ties to the mob.

The lone blemish on DeNaples’ record is the 1978 felony conviction. DeNaples, charged with fraud in connection with a scheme to otain $525,000 in federal reimbursements for storm cleanup, ultimately pleaded no contest to a conspiracy count, paid a $10,000 fine and spent three years on probation.

Marino has called DeNaples a longtime friend and that he would not “throw him under the bus” for votes.

Carney has benefited from Republican stumbles before. Running in a rural, heavily Republican district that had not sent a Democrat to Washington in more than four decades, Carney owed his 2006 election largely to a sex scandal that engulfed the GOP incumbent, Don Sherwood. Carney coasted to re-election in the Democratic tide of 2008.

Yost reported from Washington.

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