I’ve written previously about Monsignor Walter Rossi’s ties to the gay mafia in the Church. He has long enjoyed the patronage and protection of powerful gay prelates. The gay predator Bishop Michael Bransfield groomed Rossi to succeed him as rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. (Rossi was Bransfield’s director of pilgrimages.) The gay molester Theodore McCarrick, the now laicized former cardinal, elevated Rossi to the Shrine’s top job after Bransfield left for his lucrative and licentious racket in West Virginia. The disgraced Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who falsely denied any knowledge of McCarrick’s predations, then kept Rossi as the head of the National Shrine. Rossi and Wuerl had a symbiotic relationship in which the two concealed and defended each other’s corruption. (One small example of that relationship is that Rossi had me originally barred from the Shrine for nothing more than writing critical articles about Wuerl.) Meanwhile, Rossi’s immediate superior Bishop Joseph Bambera of Scranton, Pennsylvania, where Rossi was ordained as a priest, gave Rossi a ludicrously wide berth, despite complaints from his priests and concerned Catholics upset by Rossi’s gay and opulent lifestyle. It wasn’t until recently, in mid-August, that Bambera reluctantly authorized an investigation into Rossi’s long-rumored misconduct.
In June, the former papal nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, corroborated my year-long reporting on Rossi, saying that he too had received reports of Rossi preying upon Catholic University students. “He is without a doubt a member of the gay mafia,” said Viganò. “You can read about him online at the American Spectator website.”
But in the course of researching Rossi’s connection to sinister gay mafia figures, I kept hearing stories about his ties to another mafia — the Italian one. The ostensible invincibility of Rossi, multiple sources told me, derived not only from the protection he received from the McCarricks and Bransfields but also from a suspected mobster named Louis DeNaples, for whom Rossi’s father, Robert, worked as bookkeeper and accountant.
I’ve mentioned this connection previously, but I felt that the subject deserved greater treatment. Toward that end, I drove out this last week to Scranton to find out more about the Rossi-DeNaples tie.
DeNaples, everyone agrees, is an immensely powerful and reclusive figure in Scranton and Pennsylvania. He owns the state’s largest landfill business, has made a fortune in used parts, owns at least one bank (probably more), invests heavily in real estate (both in and out of the state; he is said to own a great deal of property in Florida), and has run countless side businesses (in busing, trash collection, and so on), some of them headquartered over the years at Robert Rossi’s accounting firm, say multiple sources.
DeNaples is also famous for his unsuccessful attempt to own a casino in the Poconos. He was denied the gaming license for the Mount Airy Casino Resort, owing to his ties to Russell Bufalino, the head of a northeastern Pennsylvania crime family. (Bufalino, incidentally, is one of the subjects of the upcoming movie The Irishman; Joe Pesci plays him.) DeNaples had to transfer his interests in the casino to his daughter Lisa.
To say that Walter Rossi’s father has been central to the DeNaples empire is an understatement. “He is a very creative accountant,” said one source. “Rossi had one primary client, DeNaples, and it made him an unusually wealthy accountant.”
DeNaples, who is in his late 70s, is widely described as a billionaire, “one of the 10 most wealthy people in Pennsylvania,” says a long-time observer of DeNaples. “He doesn’t want any publicity, but his tentacles go everywhere. He gives money to Democrats and Republicans; he has had everyone from Ed Rendell to Arlen Specter in his pocket. He has had judges in his pocket for years, too, who have made sure to keep him out of trouble.”
DeNaples’s legal troubles over the years have been complicated: in 1978, he pleaded no contest to defrauding the federal government in a matter related to the cleanup of Scranton after Hurricane Agnes; in 2001, federal gambling investigators found informants who said that DeNaples paid protection money to the Bufalino crime family; in 2008, he was indicted for perjury after he told state gambling investigators that he didn’t know Russell Bufalino, despite ample evidence to the contrary. He was convicted, but the conviction, I am told, was held up by judges in the pocket of DeNaples who got prosecutors to cut a deal with DeNaples to bow out of the Mount Airy casino in exchange for an overturned conviction; in 2012, officials at the Federal Reserve demanded DeNaples resign as chairman of his bank in light of his previous mob-related perjury charges — an order that was later blocked by three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals.
“He is the great white whale,” says Scranton Times-Tribune columnist Chris Kelly, who is one of the few Pennsylvania journalists to take on DeNaples. “But everyone knows he is dirty.” Another rare critic of DeNaples is Matt Birkbeck, author of The Quiet Don, a book about Russell Bufalino. Birkbeck told me that he was so fascinated by the mafia ties of DeNaples that he ended up devoting “half the book to him.” I told Birkbeck about the investigation into Monsignor Rossi. In all likelihood, DeNaples will try and derail it, Birkbeck conjectured. As the son of DeNaples’s accountant, “Rossi would be protected,” he said.
I had heard from several sources that DeNaples attends 6:30 a.m. daily Mass at St. Peter’s Cathedral. So on a gamble, I got up Wednesday morning and went over to the cathedral to see if I could ask him some questions about his relationship with Rossi. I was told that DeNaples attends Mass in the company of two bodyguards.
I got to the Mass late and searched a sea of white hair for DeNaples. At Communion, I finally saw him. He was on the right side of the church. He took Communion, but he didn’t return to his pew. He went to the back and waited for the priest’s dismissal. I went outside and waited by the exit from which he was likely to leave. He popped out, way ahead of his bodyguard, and I asked him about Rossi. (See the video below.) He lied and said that he didn’t know him, before saying something about having “heard the name.” I then asked him if Robert Rossi had been his accountant. He went completely silent and looked at me. I asked again and he walked away.
“What a ludicrous lie,” said a Scrantonian to me after I recounted the conversation. “He of course knows Walter Rossi. Rossi is the well-known son of one of his most important associates. Plus, Rossi came out of St. Rocco’s, the church in Scranton that DeNaples has pretty much single-handedly paid for.”
A month or so ago, I had asked a source with access to the files at the National Shrine to see how much money DeNaples has donated to it. My source scoured the donors’ list and found next to the name of Louis DeNaples a designation dubbed “Rossi Restricted,” a designation indicating that Rossi has a personal relationship with that person.
“Rossi is rich and protected because of DeNaples,” says an observer. “Why do you think Monsignor Rossi has had beach condos in Florida and Atlantic City? Why do you think he could afford apartments on Dupont Circle and elsewhere? The fruit doesn’t fall from the tree. Rossi’s wealth must come from family money — and that money came from DeNaples, who paid Rossi’s father a huge salary.”
Rossi, as I have previously reported, was on the short list to become bishop of Scranton in 2009, a plan hatched by the gay mafia that was scuttled after reports of his misconduct emerged during the vetting process. Indeed, as Viganò has reported, the papal nuncio to the U.S. at the time, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, was so appalled by Rossi’s misconduct that he personally intervened to make sure that Rossi didn’t get that elevation.
Sources tell me that Rossi’s chances were initially buoyed by his relationship with DeNaples. “It didn’t hurt,” says one observer, “that his father was an intimate of this mobster who just happens to be the biggest donor to the diocese of Scranton.” DeNaples, I am told, has given millions of dollars to the Church over the years, financing everything from the altar at the cathedral to the Jesuit University of Scranton (where a building has been dedicated to his parents) to Jesuit Scranton Prep (where he sent his seven kids). Some Scranton priests believe DeNaples makes up the difference when the bishop’s annual appeal fails to meet its goal. “He is buying his way to heaven,” says the columnist Chris Kelly.
Scrantonians speak of DeNaples in hushed tones and treat him as a taboo subject. But when pressed and guaranteed anonymity, they acknowledge he is a baffling admixture of conscientious Catholic and ruthless operator. “It is pretty embarrassing that one of the biggest benefactors to the Scranton diocese has mob ties,” says one source. “That the diocese of Scranton holds fundraisers at the casino owned by his daughter is disgraceful. The place gives off evil airs.”
I visited that casino to get a better sense of DeNaples, a visit that illuminated his strange concoction of Catholicism and seedy business. What immediately jumped out at me was that right next to the casino is a Catholic retreat house, the Villa of Our Lady. I went over to it and knocked on the door and out came a habitless nun. I asked her about the retreat house’s relationship with DeNaples. She hemmed and hawed, but finally admitted to one: “He cuts our grass and picks up our trash.” Alas, that quaint line doesn’t quite capture the relationship. I have been told that DeNaples cut a deal with the nuns to stay if they gave up part of their property to the casino. And how the DeNaples family makes its money at the casino is far from quaint: not only from gambling on “Playboy slots” and the like, but also from “barely legal” and aberrant pornography in the rooms, pornography with such titles as “She is Fresh out of High School,” “Shemale Stepsisters,” and “Gay: Stepdad 3somes.”
Another Monsignor Rossi tie to DeNaples is through Father Joseph Sica, who is called the “personal priest to Louis DeNaples.” Some Scrantonians say Sica, who packs heat, has also served DeNaples at times as a “bodyguard.”
Well-placed sources have told me that “Rossi and Sica are related by blood.”
Despite his indictment for perjury — Sica committed it by denying ties to the Bufalino crime family in the same gaming license investigation that ensnared DeNaples — Sica continues to serves as an active priest in the Scranton diocese. He is an associate pastor at Immaculate Conception parish. (My attempt to reach him was unsuccessful.) Sica is a colorful figure, who, upon his arrest in 2008, “was found with a gun in one pocket, $30,000 in the other, and he made his first call to ‘Uncle Louie,’ ” says a long-time Scrantonian. Later it came out that DeNaples had given Sica over $200,000 in loans. Sica and DeNaples have been pictured together at various events, including the opening of the Mount Airy Casino.
“It really is a disgrace that Sica is still at a parish in Scranton,” says one priest. “Our diocese is so unbelievably corrupt. Some of this stuff is so crazy you couldn’t even make it up. Truth is truly stranger than fiction.”
I talked to Bishop Bambera’s spokesman, Eric Deabill, about DeNaples, and all I could get out of him was an agreement that DeNaples is a prominent Catholic in the diocese. He declined to answer any questions about specific donations and simply laughed when I asked if I could speak with Bambera about DeNaples and other matters.
Will “Bambi,” as Bambera is nicknamed, allow an honest investigation into Rossi? That remains to be seen. But it is clear that, heretofore, Rossi has benefited from the immunity extended to friends of the gay mafia and the real one. As a young priest in 1989, sometime before he left for Washington, D.C., he got into a hit-and-run incident in Scranton. As I have reported previously, Rossi got drunk, hit a bunch of parked cars, kept going, fled into his rectory, and pretended to be asleep until the police arrived. What I didn’t know but learned during my time in Scranton was that his drunken wreck should have landed him in jail, at least for a few nights. (An article in the Scranton Times-Tribune bears this out.) But it didn’t. Why did he only get his license suspended?
In a sense, said one source, Rossi is a “made man,” both through his gay and familial associations. In other words, if you are the local district attorney, you don’t throw the son of Louis DeNaples’s accountant into the clink.