State gaming regulators on Wednesday revoked the permit of Lombardi's Pizza to do business with a Pennsylvania casino, siding with investigators who said the pizzeria's owner, who planned to open Lombardi's in Parx Casino, has alleged organized crime ties.
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board voted unanimously to reject the recommendation of a hearing examiner who said that state investigators had failed to prove conclusively that Lombardi's owner Michael Giammarino was unfit to work in a casino.
Law enforcement officials alleged that organized crime was attempting to get a toehold in Pennsylvania casinos through Lombardi's, which was founded in New York's Little Italy and claims to be America's oldest pizzeria.
Board members did not comment on the decision, which will be set forth in a written order that was not immediately disclosed.
Joseph W. Grad, Giammarino's lawyer, said he planned to appeal the decision to Commonwealth Court.
"The bottom line is that the investigative and prosecutorial arm of the board failed to establish a single fact which might indicate that Michael Giammarino has done anything wrong in connection with his efforts to establish a Lombardi's at Parx," Grad said in a statement.
Giammarino professed his innocence at an Oct. 31 hearing, saying he was unaware of the alleged organized crime ties of his stepfather and of two intermediaries who had acted as brokers between Parx and Giammarino.
"Everybody's going to make the assumption that I'm mobbed up, and it's not true," Giammarino, 53, said in an interview this month.
Giammarino ran a Lombardi's outlet on 18th Street near Rittenhouse Square until 2005, and operated a South Philadelphia restaurant, Gennaro's Tomato Pie, until 2017.
Last December, only weeks before Lombardi's was scheduled to open in Parx, gaming board investigators moved to revoke the 2016 permit granted to Giammarino's management firm, Sonic Services Inc. Investigators said he was unsuitable to be a gaming service provider "due to his associations with reputed organized crime members."
Parx cut off ties with Giammarino and opened the pizzeria early this year under its own brand name, Oliveto.
Giammarino said he barely knew the two intermediaries who introduced him to officials at Parx, who recruited Giammarino to open the restaurant in a revamped food court. Law enforcement officials identified the men as mafia associates.
Giammarino's relationship with his stepfather, John Brescio, who was the public face of Lombardi's in New York, was "more problematic," the hearing officer said. New York law enforcement officials last year named Brescio as a captain in the Genovese crime family.
Giammarino said he was unaware of the allegations against his stepfather, who later disavowed any ownership interest in the pizzeria.
"I just don't understand how all these people's misdeeds got basically tattooed on me," Giammarino told the gaming board last month.
But the gaming board's investigators had recommended the board reject any casino supplier with even a trace of organized crime connections.
"We encourage the board to take a zero-tolerance policy to any association with organized crime by any applicant or licensee," Michael Roland, a lawyer with the board's Office of Enforcement Counsel, said at the Oct. 31 hearing.