Late mayor Rizzo's daughter snared in gambling ring

Joanna Mastronardo, her son and about a dozen others were charged Wednesday in a multimillion-dollar sports-betting operation allegedly run by her husband. Elizabeth Robertson / Staff Photographer
Joanna Mastronardo, her son and about a dozen others were charged Wednesday in a multimillion-dollar sports-betting operation allegedly run by her husband. Elizabeth Robertson / Staff Photographer
Posted: August 09, 2012

AT LEAST Frank Rizzo doesn't have to see his girl in handcuffs.

Joanna Mastronardo, daughter of the late Philadelphia mayor, was arrested early Wednesday for her alleged role in a multimillion-dollar sports-betting operation that authorities say was run by her husband, Joseph "Joe Vito" Mastronardo, and generated so much cash that they stuffed it in PVC pipe and buried it outside their majestic Abington home.

"It's really regrettable. She's never been in trouble before," said attorney Dennis Cogan, who represented the family at their initial court appearance. "As everybody knows, this would have crushed her late father."

Also charged were her son Joseph F. Mastronardo, brother-in-law John Mastronardo and 12 others. They allegedly used websites and Costa Rican staffers to handle sports bets, then laundered the money or deposited it in small increments to avoid raising suspicion.

Prosecutors say the "Mastronardo Bookmaking Organization," at its peak, had more than 1,000 bettors and generated millions of dollars per year.

Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman, who filed charges against some of the defendants in 2010 before handing the case to federal authorities, said the alleged racketeering operation "had tentacles spreading across the U.S. and beyond."

"These defendants tried to ‘game' the system," she said. "Today, they crapped out."

Everyone but Joanna Mastronardo was charged with gambling and racketeering conspiracy. She was charged only with "structuring" for allegedly making bank deposits that were deliberately less than $10,000 to remain under the radar.

Cogan emphasized that there were no allegations of violence or mob connections, calling the indictment a "step away" from a white-collar case. "We've made the streets safe," he said sardonically. "Safe for SugarHouse."

Joseph "Joe Vito" Mastronardo had a legendary reputation in the gambling world and was revered for his mathematical skills and ability to move betting lines, said Sean Patrick Griffin, a Penn State Abington criminal-justice professor and author of Gaming the Game, which examined the gambling scandal involving ex-NBA referee Tim Donaghy.

Griffin said Mastronardo was a mentor to James "Baba" Battista, a Donaghy coconspirator, and benefitted from some of Donaghy's inside information. Mastronardo's phone records were subpoenaed as part of that investigation, he said.

"It's Joe Vito's records that led them to Battista," Griffin said. "Battista initially thought Joe was a rat."

As the Mastronardos left the courthouse Wednesday, the 30-year-old son, wearing an orange Ron Hextall Flyers T-shirt, patted his father on the shoulder, then his mother, as they walked up Arch Street together.

Contact William Bender at 215-854-5255 or benderw@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @wbender99.

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