Yonkers player challenges AP criminal debt collection



A Yonkers plumber who likes to gamble sues to stop a Pennsylvania prosecutor from collecting a casino debt.

Richard L. Solano sued the Luzerne County District Attorney on May 23 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in White Plains, accusing the prosecutor, Stefanie J. Salvantis, of unconstitutionally using criminal law to enforce a civil debt.

Criminal prosecution of gambling debts creates a “debtors’ prison” for gamblers, the complaint states, and interferes with the role of the bankruptcy court by offering debtors a fresh start.

Solano, 55, owns Complete Plumbing & Heating Services, Yonkers, and lives in Carmel, Putnam County.

He describes himself in the complaint as a player for many years who has played in many tournaments and won several. But it is his losing streak that is in question.

He filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy liquidation on May 20, declaring $12,350 in assets and more than $2.8 million in liabilities. More than half of the liabilities, $1.75 million, relate to casino debts ranging from $150,000 to $640,000.

He owes money to the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, Atlantic City; MGM National Port, Maryland; Mohegan Sun, Connecticut; Resorts World Bimini Casino, Miami; Seminole Casino, Okeechobee, Florida. It also lists unknown amounts owed to Masantucket Pequot Gaming Enterprise, Connecticut and Seminole Hard Rock, Rockledge, Florida.

In February 2017, he was playing at Mohegan Sun Pocono Casino near Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania.

The casino approved $250,000 in game markers—essentially a line of credit or short-term loan—for the purchase of casino chips for the game. Seven hours later, the casino approved an additional $50,000 in markers.

When it came time to pay the markers, Solano did not have enough funds.

The complaint says the markers were issued at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, shortly before Governor Andrew Cuomo issued orders restricting activities, and therefore reducing its ability to generate revenue.

(Cuomo declared a state of emergency and closed schools and some businesses in March 2020, more than three years after Mohegan Sun approved the Solano markers.)

Salvantis, the DA, filed a “private criminal complaint” in May 2018 accusing Solano of issuing a $250,000 check to pay the markers knowing his Bank of America account would not honor it.

“This case challenges the legality of using criminal law to collect gambling debts from a casino,” the complaint states.

Using a criminal action to collect a civil debt is an abuse of process, argues Solano’s attorney, H. Bruce Bronson.

He says the prosecution is seeking a conviction on the presumption that Solano intended to defraud the casino, without proving each element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, in violation of the due process clause of the American Constitution.

The complaint also claims that the district attorney’s office is not a neutral party because it receives commissions from the revenue it collects from suing unpaid casino scorers, thus inserting a profit motive into the lawsuit.

“Pennsylvania laws are nothing more than a gimmick for district attorney debt collection,” the complaint states, “which is in the pocket of the casinos.”

Solano has no criminal record, does not usually write bad checks and poses no danger to society, the complaint states.

“The district attorney is simply acting as a debt collector for the casino and using the criminal prosecution as a hammer.”

Samuel Sanguedolce, who replaced Salvantis as Luzerne prosecutor, called the complaint off-base.

He said the purpose of criminal law is to protect commercial transactions. Solano wrote a check, didn’t have the money, was told to pay it back, and didn’t.

Others have challenged the bad check law, he said, without success.

Solano is asking the court to stop the criminal case and he has requested an immediate “emergency” temporary restraining order. US Bankruptcy Judge Sean H. Lane dismissed the restraining order on May 27.

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