Poker machines seized in S. Phila.

More than 50 video-poker machines were seized from 13 locations in South Philly yesterday, including two known mob hangouts.
More than 50 video-poker machines were seized from 13 locations in South Philly yesterday, including two known mob hangouts.
Posted: September 17, 2009

Let me give it to you straight: Video poker was flushed yesterday in South Philly.

A combo of state police, agents from the state Attorney General's Office and the FBI busted the action - seizing more than 50 video-poker machines at 13 locations that include two reputed mob hangouts, 10 bars and a vending-machine supplier.

The video-poker machines can easily be turned into illegal moneymakers that pay off customers. Only slight adjustments need to be made in the mechanism, according to gambling experts.

Heather Costellino, senior deputy attorney general, directed the raids, part of an ongoing investigation. Erik Olsen, chief deputy attorney general of the organized-crime section, said the FBI was not part of the state probe.

"We do everything we can to coordinate our respective investigations," he added.

The raids signal that a state indictment charging bar owners with illegally operating video-poker machines is in the works, and that the feds could be completing a years-long mob probe.

The mother lode of machines - at least 30 - was confiscated at Ace Vending Co., on Mountain Street near 8th, where they were stored in a garage, according to a source close to the investigation.

Asked how many machines were seized, Ace's owner, Curtis Arbitman, shaking his head in the garage, replied: "No idea."

State agents in blue shirts emblazoned with the attorney general's emblem loaded truck after truck with the machines until almost 5 p.m. The raid began about nine hours earlier.

This was the second raid in two years at Ace's garage, and the third time since now-jailed mob boss John Stanfa controlled the company in the early 1990s, said Michael DiTullio, the "mayor" of Mountain Street.

"Curt's been doing business here for eight years," he added. "He's a great neighbor and a very nice person. I had no idea he was involved in illegal machines. He's a standup guy."

About 8 a.m., a longtime neighbor heard state police and agents serving a search warrant and the rattle of Ace's garage door across Mountain Street.

At first, Pam Nocella, a recent arrival to South Philly, said that when she saw men in suits at the garage, she thought they were selling pinball machines.

"I thought maybe it's a legitimate business," she said.

"I came back and realized what happened when the guys in blue shirts were hauling away the machines in truckloads," she added.

As neighbors gathered, agents loaded the last machines. One neighbor quipped: "Think we could take one of those machines home?"

"What an exciting block we live on," said another Mountain Street neighbor, Juliette Iette Forgione, returning from work.

At a reputed mob hangout, Quattro Bar & Grille, formerly Charlie Bears, on 13th Street near Moyamensing Avenue, a bartender confirmed state agents raided the place, taking out boxes of records and video-poker machines.

Though the bar has changed hands and names, it is still linked to Gaeton Lucibello, once a high-ranking mobster, according to law-enforcement sources. Another known mob hangout, Broadway Pub Bar, on East Passyunk Avenue, was also raided.

Adjacent to Quattro is Colanzi's Bar, at 13th and Moyamensing. "State agents came but there were no machines, nothing," said the general manager, a woman in her 70s, who invited a reporter to see the nearly empty bar.

"These slots have been around for years," a patron said.

A bartender at Cheech's Bar at 12th Street and Oregon Avenue confirmed that the bar had been raided and directed questions to the owner, who declined to comment or identify himself.

Near the entrance of Cheech's was a monitor for video games, with a logo for Ace Vending.

In Whitman Park, a bartender walked into the middle of an FBI raid at Nickel's Bar at 2nd and Oregon.

"There were all these guys with bulletproof vests and guns and trucks outside they were loading," she said.

"About 10:30-11, they raided all the bars, so we didn't have a chance to call each other," she said. "It was like a drug raid, all at once. "At a bar on Cross Street, she added, "there was no money in the poker machine, but they took it anyway."

"I was surprised the FBI was here. Seems like there's more to it. This is usually a state kind of case," she added.

Even though she had heard that mob hangouts were raided, she indicated that Nickels was in no way related to them. "This is Jimmy Nickels' [bar], he's Irish."

Added a Nickels patron: "Why don't they go up in North Philly and arrest them for drugs?"

At 2nd and Reed streets, the Shamrock Pub was locked.

A Shamrock customer, who identified himself as Kevin, walked past and said: "They had trouble. [Authorities] took the poker machines out."

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