An outraged Frank L. Rizzo Tuesday night accused the police department he once led of "acting like a bunch of KGB agents" by picking the hour of a televised mayoral debate to raid an alleged $30 million-a-year gambling ring reportedly run by his son-in-law.
The former mayor and former police commissioner, who is attempting a political comeback in the May 17 Democratic mayoral primary, said he was "disgusted" that detectives showed up at a debate-viewing fund-raiser, sponsored by his campaign, in search of Joseph Vito Mastronardo, 32, Rizzo's son-in-law.
"There's nothing that important about bookmaking," Rizzo fumed, adding that he believed the raid was timed to embarrass him politically.
But Police Commissioner Morton Solomon today called Mastronardo "the biggest bookmaker on the East Coast," and "to be in that category, he has to have connections with organized crime."
Solomon denied that the timing of the raid was political. Rather, he said, it was dictated by the expiration date of a court-approved wiretap of the computerized, multi-state sports betting ring. He said that the detectives who went to the fund-raiser in a vain search for Mastronardo simply were doing their job.
Solomon, whom Rizzo has pledged to fire if he is elected, also took a swipe at his former boss: "If Mr. Rizzo thinks this is something timed to embarrass him, I ask him if he's involved." He also called Rizzo "a lousy mayor and a lousy candidate." The two never have gotten along, but it was the first time that Solomon spoke out publicly.
Rizzo aides said that although the raid began at 7 p.m. EST Tuesday--an hour before the lone, live televised debate of the campaign--Rizzo did not know of it until after the debate was over. His performance, therefore, was unaffected.
But to top off what was not one of the better nights of the Rizzo campaign, most political observers here gave him lackluster reviews.
His opponent, former city managing director W. Wilson Goode, who is seeking to become the city's first black mayor, was not thought to have done much better--but Goode is nursing a 20-point lead in the polls going into the campaign's final month and he figured to "win" the debate simply by not losing it.
As for Mastronardo, police did not find him Tuesday night, but he surrendered about 10 a.m. today. It was the second time in less than a year that he has been arrested on gambling charges.
Police, armed with warrants, arrested at least 11 other people suspected of being part of a three-state bookmaking ring.
Mastronardo's brother, John, 28, arrested at his Philadelphia apartment, faced similar charges, police said.
Joseph Mastronardo was identified last May as part of a gambling ring in the wake of raids that officials said were conducted to supply evidence to a grand jury.
The grand jury recommended Mastronardo's arrest after the raids, but action was thwarted by motions filed by defense attorneys.
Capt. Frank Wallace, head of the Philadelphia Police Organized Crime Unit, which conducted the raids, said that the current investigation was started in December, when law enforcement officials received information that the Mastronardos' gambling operation was back in business. Wiretaps were begun April 1, Wallace said.
He said that in the 18 days that the wiretaps were employed, more than $1.5 million of gambling "action" was conducted.