Fla. man admits role in Phila. extortion scheme

A Florida man pleaded guilty Thursday to playing a role in an extortion scheme involving a beer distributor and an official with Philadelphia's Department of Licenses and Inspections.

Prosecutors said Mario Fresta, 37, was an associate of Dominic Verdi, a former L&I official charged last year with giving special treatment to bar and restaurant owners who purchased alcohol from a beer distributor in which he had ownership interest.

Fresta told O.N.E. Rittenhouse nightclub that Verdi's L&I position would benefit the club if it hired Fresta as a manager and purchased its alcohol from the distributor, Chappy's Beer, Butts, & Bets, federal prosecutors said. Even after Fresta stopped working at the club, prosecutors said, he asked its owners to continue paying him $400 a week and another $300 in kickbacks, allegedly for Verdi and other L&I officials. The nightclub paid more than $19,990, prosecutors said, which Fresta told its owners would save the nightclub from being shut down.

Fresta pleaded guilty in federal court in Philadelphia to one count of extortion. He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. His sentencing is scheduled for July 15. - Laura McCrystal