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Union Grill owner, 9 others charged with bookmaking

Restaurant has been popular with politicians, county workers

Friday, August 08, 2003

By Joe Smydo, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The owner of a popular watering hole in Washington, Pa., was charged yesterday with running a bookmaking operation from his business a block from the Washington County Courthouse.

State police and the attorney general's office said Michael R. "Mickey" Flynn, 62, owner of the Union Grill, was one of 10 people snared in a two-year investigation.

Flynn, one of Washington's most colorful characters, was known to hold court at his bar on weekend nights complaining about government intrusiveness, DUI checkpoints and the "MADD Mothers," his term for Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

A staunch Democrat, he's the son of late county Commissioner Michael Flynn, the brother of Register of Wills Kathleen Flynn Reda and the uncle of state police Cpl. Lou Reda.

The Union Grill is considered by many to be the city's best restaurant and long has been a hangout for elected officials and county workers. Bill Clinton stopped there during his first run for president, and in the dining room hangs an enlarged photograph of Clinton and Flynn, both grinning.

Beneath the photo is a sign that asks: "Who's that guy with Mickey?"

But authorities charge that Flynn was accepting more than takeout orders over the phone.

State Attorney General Mike Fisher said Flynn and a partner, Charles Martin, 50, of South Strabane, ran a sports betting operation that involved eight bookies in Allegheny and Washington counties.

Flynn could not be reached for comment; Martin declined to be interviewed. The two face various charges, including participating in a corrupt organization, a felony punishable by 20 years in prison.

The pair's bookies were identified as Daniel Piccolo, 75, and Charles Skorvan, 58, both of Monongahela; James Celedonia, 50, of Upper St. Clair; Anthony Cihal, 76, of Pittsburgh; William McGonigle, 69, of Peters; John Pankas, 68, of Canonsburg; William Antonio, 58, of Beallsville; and Edmund Cononge, 43, of Washington.

Piccolo was a witness two years ago during the trial of Washington County District Justice Ronald Amati, who had been charged with running an illegal video poker operation and tipping friends to police raids. Amati was convicted and sentenced to 42 months in prison.

Kevin Harley, spokesman for the attorney general's office, declined to say whether the Amati and Flynn investigations were linked. A key investigator in both cases was state Trooper Anthony Cornetta, a member of the organized crime division.

The eight identified as bookies have been charged with bookmaking and criminal conspiracy. Cononge also faces felony drug charges because authorities said they found marijuana in his home.

Flynn, Martin and the others will remain free until they are arraigned Aug. 18 by District Justice Jay Weller of North Strabane.

"We don't believe they are a flight risk," Harley said.

The attorney general's office said it presented evidence against the group to a statewide investigating grand jury, which recommended charges be filed.

Authorities said a confidential informant repeatedly placed telephone bets with Flynn and Martin and went to the Union Grill to "settle up" many wagers. Flynn allegedly took a 10 percent commission, or "juice," meaning the informant had to pay $22 when he lost a $20 bet.

As the investigation continued, the attorney general's office said, state troopers tapped phone lines and recorded conversations involving Flynn, Martin and the alleged bookies.

In some instances, officials said, the suspects used the calls to transfer bets from one person to another for financial reasons. On one occasion, authorities said, Flynn and Piccolo discussed an "illegal Vegas night involving blackjack and craps."

Authorities served search warrants April 9 at the Union Grill and the homes of several suspects, yielding bookmaking paraphernalia in some places and large amounts of cash in others, the attorney general's office said.

After the warrants had been served, the attorney general said, Flynn and Martin had a phone conversation in which they discussed moving their customers' accounts to an offshore betting business. Flynn, the authorities said, directed Martin to get the ball rolling so the system would be set up by football season.


Joe Smydo can be reached at jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 724-746-8812.

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