VFW official avoids jail over video poker
NASHUA - Former Milford Selectman Doug Bianchi was sentenced Wednesday to a year in jail - a term that suspended for two years - plus $2,000 in fines and 200 hours of community service on two misdemeanor gambling charges related to video poker machines at Milford's Veterans of Foreign Wars post. At the sentencing, Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge Diane Nicolosi said she did not believe it was "a crime of greed," but she felt she had to send a message. After the hearing, Bianchi was heartened by the words. "At least the judge saw I didn't profit from it," Bianchi said. "That was the point of this whole thing."In February 2007, Milford police, the state Bureau of Liquor Enforcement and the Attorney General's Drug Task Force entered the Harley-Sanford VFW Post 4368 in Milford and, armed with a search warrant, confiscated five video poker machines. They alleged the machines had been illegally paying out winnings. Video poker machines are legal but only if they are used for amusement. Bianchi, a Milford native who was the post's quartermaster, is accused of leasing the machines. Bianchi was convicted of conspiracy to commit gambling and "liability for the conduct of another." Bianchi and VFW steward Arthur Gagnon were eventually charged. Gagnon pleaded guilty and testified during Bianchi's jury trial in July. During the trial, Assistant County Attorney Patricia LaFrance argued that Bianchi personally profited from the illegal gambling. At sentencing, LaFrance called poker machines the "crack cocaine" of gambling because it can be so addictive. But Bianchi's lawyer, Jim Dennehy, argued that Bianchi didn't profit from the gambling and that the money went to pay the VFW's bills and to charities and scholarships. During the trial, Denhehy argued that County Attorney Marguerite Wageling went after Bianchi, but not the VFW, because it would be politically unpopular for an elected official to tackle a veteran's group. Wageling said her office went after Bianchi and Gagnon because the evidence brought forth by law enforcement made a case that they were responsible. "We were here to enforce the law, nothing more, nothing less," Wageling said in a phone interview after the sentencing. No decisions have been made about charging the VFW as an entity, Wageling said, nor about charging Gagnon with perjury because some statements he made at Bianchi's trial contradicted what he had previously told law enforcement. Bianchi served a year as a selectman in Milford before stepping down in 2006 over a disagreement with the way the board was running the town.