By George Anastasia
A federal prosecutor has spent most of this week building the case against Dominic
Verdi, the former Philadelphia Deputy Commissioner of Licenses and Inspections charged with playing fast and loose with rules and ethics in a quid-pro-quo scam built in part around his hidden ownership in a beer distribution company.
On Friday Verdi, who resigned his city post back in February 2011 amid reports of a far-reaching corruption investigation, will get a chance to tell his side of the story.
The South Philadelphia politico is expected to take the stand in his own defense in the trial which began in U.S. District Court on Monday and could go to the jury early next week. The prosecution is expected to rest its case on Thursday, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Denise Wolf who over the past two days has called a series of witnesses, including bar owners and law enforcement investigators, who have offered sometimes conflicting testimony about the 62-year-old former city official.
One former bar owner testified today that Verdi was a "stand up guy" who never asked him to do anything improper. But another alleged that Verdi accepted cash bribes of $1,000 stuffed in an envelope in order to expedite relicensing issues and provide "alerts" about potential inspections.
A former L&I fire inspector testified that Verdi never asked him to do anything "inappropriate," but a retired State Police sergeant assigned to the same Nuisance Task Force as Verdi said the former Deputy Commissioner once asked him to "go easy" on one bar and was less than candid about a homicide that occurred at a strip club that authorities said was part of the quid-pro-quo scam.
The prosecution, in a pre-trial memo that outlined the charges, alleged that Verdi had a hidden interest in Chappy's Beer, Butts and Bets, a South Philadelphia-based beer distributorship and that bar owners who were subject to L&I regulations where told that if they purchased their beer from Chappy's, Verdi would look out for their interests.
"Bar owners reasoned that it would be a good business decision to purchase beer from Chappy's," Wolf wrote in a memo filed prior to the start of the trial. "Bar owners, recognizing Verdi's authority, expected preferential treatment and protection from Verdi in return."
The same prosecution memo identified disbarred attorney Gregory Quigley, a co-owner of Chappy's, and Henry "Ed" Alfano, as unindicted co-conspirators in the case.
Quigley, who lost his license to practice law in 2009 after pleading guilty to a perjury charged linked to a State Attorney General's organized crime investigation in Delaware County, has been identified by witnesses as Verdi's partner in Chappy's.
Alfano, an ex-Philadelphia cop, is an influential Southwest Philadelphia businessman who owns the properties at which two strip clubs and an adult video business operate. He also owns a salvage yard and a towing company.
In May 2014, Alfano pleaded guilty to conspiracy and mail fraud charges tied to a corruption and bribery investigation of Philadelphia Traffic Court. The prosecution memo alleges that Alfano had a "quid pro quo" relationship with Verdi; that Verdi's son worked as a bartender at one of the strip clubs, and that the clubs bought their beer from Chappy's.
In exchange, the memo quoted Alfano as telling associates, Verdi did "a lot of stuff" for the bars and was "100 percent in our favor."
It's unclear how much, if any, of Alfano's comments, will be presented to the jury. But testimony today included former State Police Sergeant William LaTorre's account of Verdi's questionable conduct after a patron was beaten to death in the parking lot of Oasis, one of the strip clubs, by two club employees.
LaTorre said ordinarily a homicide would result in an order from L&I forcing the business to close at least temporarily. That didn't happen after the incident that occurred on Oct. 16, 2009. In fact, LaTorre said Verdi initially told him the incident was "a domestic between a stripper and a bouncer" and that only later did he learn that someone had been killed and that there was a homicide investigation underway by the Philadelphia Police Department.
"I was upset and angry to be put in this situation by Mr. Verdi," La Torre said.
He also told the jury that Verdi once asked him to "go easy" on Club 360, another bar that later testimony indicated was a client of Chappy's. And LaTorre offered what turned out to be disputed testimony about La Stanza, a South Philadelphia bar that authorities said was operating without a valid liquor license.
LaTorre said a raid on the bar, located at 20th and Oregon, normally would have resulted in the establishment being issued a cease order and closed until the issues had been resolved. LaTorre said the bar/restaurants reopened within a day after obtaining the necessary relicensing.
But Giovanni Tripodi, the bar owner, said he spent three days in jail after that raid, and that La Stanza did not open until his release and until various licensing violations were resolved.
Tripodi, who was also a partner in Chappy's, said he had invested in the business after being approached by Quigley and Verdi. He said he provided a $75,000 investment and was promised a 25 percent interest in the beer company. Quigley, he said, did most of the negotiating. He also said Quigley had arranged the LaStanza liquor license that proved to be invalid.
Tripodi said he lost most of the money he invested in Chappy's and blamed Quigley for the problems that were created, including the invalid liquor license for LaStanza.
When defense attorney Susan Lin asked him, "Did Quigley screw you?" Tripodi responded, "Absolutely."
But he had nothing but praise for Verdi.
"He's a very good guy," he said. "He's a standup guy. That's the only reason I invested in it (Chappy's)."
Under prodding by the federal prosecutor, Tripodi conceded that the fact that Verdi was an L&I official also factored into his decision. But when asked if he got "special treatment" from Verdi, he replied, "I don't think so."
Special treatment, of course, is a relative term, one that jurors will have to wrestle with once the case is handed to them next week. Before that, Dominic Verdi will have the chance to offer his explanation.
George Anastasia can be reached at George@Bigtrial.net.