Ex-prosecutor running for Congress changes story on reference for felon who sought casino OK

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Pa. candidate changes story on helping felon

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — A former federal prosecutor running for Congress has dropped his claim that he had permission from the Justice Department to serve as a personal reference for a convicted felon seeking a casino license.

Republican Tom Marino asserted in an April radio interview that his superiors authorized him to act as a reference on a casino application submitted by businessman Louis DeNaples — at a time when Marino’s office was investigating DeNaples.

Marino’s account was called into doubt when The Associated Press reported Sept. 17 there was no documentation that Marino had permission from the Justice Department to vouch for DeNaples, a wealthy northeastern Pennsylvania businessman who had been convicted in a 1970s scheme to defraud the government of more than $500,000.

Earlier this month, Marino asserted that “the release of certain documents would end this matter.” But Marino refused to produce the letter his campaign said he received, saying he was not authorized to release “documents related to my service as United States Attorney.”

Marino now says he never asked for permission because he didn’t need it. He told The Daily Item of Sunbury in a story published Tuesday that he was permitted to provide personal references as long as he didn’t use his job title or attempt to promote staffers.

“I did it all the time,” he said, according to the newspaper.

Campaign spokesman Jason Fitzgerald on Tuesday confirmed Marino’s comments in the newspaper, but refused to make the candidate available to the AP, saying his “schedule will not permit” an interview.

Fitzgerald said the issue over whether Marino had authority had gone on “entirely too long.”

“It’s about a nonissue,” said Fitzgerald, who did not address Marino’s changing stories. Marino himself did not respond to repeated AP requests for an interview.

Justice spokeswoman Jessica Smith, who confirmed last week that Marino never received the permission he claimed to have, declined immediate comment.

The Justice Department’s ethics code says that its employees shouldn’t use their position or title “to coerce; to endorse any product, service or enterprise; or to give the appearance of governmental sanction.”

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.

Democratic Rep. Chris Carney, whom Marino is trying to unseat in Pennsylvania’s 10th Congressional District, said through a spokesman Tuesday that Marino has been caught “spinning a tale of lies.”

“It has become clear he will say anything to get elected,” spokesman Josh Drobnyk said. “How can the public trust Tom Marino when he continues to insult them with so many lies?”

Fitzgerald said Carney should “be ashamed that he is questioning the integrity and honesty of Tom Marino.”

The controversy stems from Marino’s April 28 appearance on WILK-AM radio host Steve Corbett’s show, when he told Corbett that he had informed his Justice Department supervisors about the DeNaples reference.

Corbett has said that after the interview Marino’s campaign manager, Dave Weber, told him that Marino would supply a letter from the Justice Department backing up the claim about the DeNaples reference.

Marino denied Corbett’s account.

“The radio personality made it up. There is no letter,” he told the Sunbury paper.

Corbett said Tuesday that he stands by his reporting and is willing to “sign a sworn affidavit and be deposed under oath and under threat of perjury.” He said he challenged Marino to do the same.

(This version CORRECTS fourth paragraph to say that Marino asserted ‘release of certain documents would end this matter,’ not that Marino campaign said he received written DOJ permission.)

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