L&I official pleads not guilty to extortion scheme

Posted: April 04, 2014

WEARING JEANS, a tan pullover and white Nikes, a middle-age man sat silently in the audience of a federal courtroom yesterday and stared straight ahead.

Occasionally, his face reddened and his lips pursed, as he appeared to fight back tears. Otherwise, he could've been anyone.

But Dominic Verdi, 58, isn't just anyone.

He's a former city official accused of using his office to extort business for a beer distributorship that he allegedly co-owns, and he's facing up to 140 years in prison and a $1.75 million maximum fine.

When U.S. District Judge Jacob Hart entered the room, he called Verdi up and forced him to break his silence. Verdi said: "Not guilty. . . . Thank you, your honor."

Hart accepted a release agreement between Verdi and Assistant U.S. Attorney David Axelrod in which Verdi can remain free while awaiting trial, as long as he stays in eastern Pennsylvania, surrenders two firearms he owns and follows other rules.

After the proceeding, Verdi's lawyer, Frank DeSimone, said his client "totally, totally denies the allegations."

"We're looking forward to presenting a defense," DeSimone said, declining to provide details.

A federal grand jury charged Verdi on Tuesday with three counts of extortion, three counts of honest-services fraud and one count of conspiracy for allegedly using his city office to funnel up to $1 million in sales to Chappy's Beer, Butts & Bets, a South Philly beer distributor that he allegedly co-owns. The indictment says that Verdi, as deputy commissioner of the city's Department of Licenses & Inspections, orchestrated special treatment for bars and clubs that bought beer from Chappy's from 2006 to 2010.

Verdi gave those establishments - which included Oasis gentlemen's club, the Fireside Tavern and a Catholic War Veterans bar - licenses for which they didn't qualify or warnings about surprise inspections, the indictment said.

Verdi resigned from L&I in 2011 after the investigation came to light.

On Twitter: @SeanWalshDN

Blog: ph.ly/PhillyClout

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