RENO — Defense attorneys in the case of eight defendants accused of rigging phony slot-machine jackpots worth $3.25 million completed opening statements Wednesday before prosecutors started showing videotapes of some of the defendants rigging a slot machine.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Don Hill showed jurors small homemade tools, including 20-inch lengths of piano wire, that were found on one man after he rigged a $50,000 jackpot in New Jersey.
Authorities are calling it the largest slot cheating scam in casino history. The alleged cheating occurred in Reno, Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe and Atlantic City.
Hill told the federal jury that the defendants were part of a gang of sophisticated slot cheaters. Hill said each defendant carried out clearly defined roles, which he described as "mechanics, recruiters, blockers and collectors."
Seized After Stakeout
The videotape was narrated by a New Jersey State Police officer, Detective Sgt. John Medolla, who arrested four defendants at Caesars Boardwalk Regency in Atlantic City on May 8, 1982, after a stakeout set up by police and casino security personnel who got word of a possible slot cheating attempt.
Four defendants were convicted in New Jersey, but now face federal charges in Reno.
The videotape showed defendants, including alleged ringleader John Vaccaro of Las Vegas, gradually surround a progressive slot machine at Caesars. Medolla said "mechanic" Ross Durham, now a government witness, then moved up to the machine, gently pried open the front and inserted piano wires.
Durham stopped a clock controlling the reels, allowing the reels to rotate freely and be manipulated by Durham to the winning position, Medolla told jurors in the courtroom, darkened for easy viewing on TV monitors.
Machine Lit Up
When the reels were lined up, the machine lit up, signifying a $50,000 jackpot. Durham and the others then left, leaving "collector" Fred DeFillipo standing at the machine. But Medolla and other agents moved in, arresting most of the suspects. DeFillipo threw some coins back into the slot machine's tray and walked away from the jackpot, only to be apprehended himself.
Aside from Vaccaro, the other defendants are his wife, Sandra, also of Las Vegas; William Cushing, Norm Alvis, Dorothy Snider and Michael Brennan, all of Sacramento; Steven LaBarbera of Las Vegas and Paul Bond of Reno.