Grand jury report suggests more may be charged in Turnpike Commission's 'pay-to-play' scheme
HARRISBURG — A stunning grand jury report alleging a “pay-to-play” scheme for gifts and campaign money at the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission raises more questions than it answers and suggests more officials may be charged, analysts said.
“The only surprise is there were not more people implicated in what has been a patronage cesspool for decades,” said Matthew Brouillette, president of the Commonwealth Foundation, which has studied turnpike operations. “Hopefully the buck will stop where it really lies: with those directing this type of activity.”
Dennis Fisher, a spokesman for Attorney General Kathleen Kane, declined to discuss the probe. Kane said the investigation would continue.
“(The grand jury report) says both political parties engaged in it, yet only one party was named,” said Tom Baldino, a political science professor at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre. “Maybe Kane's office will use the information to track Republicans.”
For such broad and complex schemes — essentially shakedowns of contractors for campaign contributions and gifts — Kane charged only one elected official: former Senate Minority Leader Robert Mellow, a Scranton Democrat.
Yet she didn't charge the real power in that caucus, ex-Sen. Vincent Fumo, D-Philadelphia. Kane said the grand jury found no evidence against Fumo.
Mellow and Fumo are convicted felons serving time in federal prisons for separate corruption cases.
The grand jury report indicates Mellow was “sloppy” with solicitations and Fumo “would have insulated himself,” Brouillette said.
In addition to Mellow, Kane charged seven others, including former turnpike CEO Joe Brimmeier of Ross, with crimes ranging from bid-rigging to bribery. The money went primarily to Senate Democrats and gubernatorial candidates, the grand jury said.
A district judge on Thursday released Brimmeier, 64, on $100,000 bond.
“I don't have any comments till we get through all of this,” Brimmeier said afterward.
His attorney, William Winning of the Philadelphia-based Cozen O'Connor law firm, told reporters his client will be absolved of crimes.
“The presentment in this case represents a very one-sided and slanted view of the operations of the Pennsylvania Turnpike,” Winning said. “When the facts come out … I am convinced he'll be completely exonerated.”
The report gives no hint of why Brimmeier on his own would raise more than $100,000 for former Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, as the grand jury alleged. It provides no suggestion of whether anyone directed him or requested the money. Rendell issued a statement saying he was unaware of such activity.
The report emphasized a 60-40 split of turnpike contracts and patronage — 60 percent going to Democrats, the party in power from 2003-11 under Rendell, and 40 percent to Republicans.
Yet the grand jury named no Republican senators. Former GOP Sens. Bob Jubelirer and David “Chip” Brightbill were widely believed to influence turnpike politics.
“I haven't seen it,” Brightbill said of the report. “I have no idea.”
Asked about Republicans supposedly getting a take, Brightbill said: “Not that I was involved in.”
In a 2005 series, the Tribune-Review reported Jubelirer's former top aide, Mike Long, directed the Senate GOP's interests at the turnpike. Long's private company, Commonwealth Strategic Solutions, has worked for the turnpike commission.
Long and Jubelirer could not be reached for comment. Neither they nor Brightbill is accused of wrongdoing. Voters ousted Jubelirer and Brightbill in 2006.
Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson County, “doesn't have any knowledge of the so-called 60-40 split,” said staff attorney Andrew Crompton. The same is true for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware County, said his spokesman, Erik Arneson.
Wes Leckrone, a political science professor at Widener University in Chester, said the brazen activity described by the grand jury surprised him.
“This is just out-and-out political corruption,” Leckrone said.
Said Kane: “It was almost as though they had no fear of being caught.”
Brad Bumsted is state Capitol reporter for the Tribune-Review. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Record-holding female motorcyclist to speak at Lincoln Highway event
- RB Williams believes he’s making seamless transition to Steelers
- No certainty for Pirates’ call-up veterans
- Rossi: Continuing legend of Pirate Ray
- White lion Prince dies at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort
- Pitt basketball team starting to get injured players back
- LaBar: Sting making history fighting for WWE title
- Brashear cornerback Coleman picks Pitt
- Big plays cost Steelers defense in preseason loss at Bills
- Survey finds no clear fix to achieving racial diversity in Westmoreland County
- Vintage drive-in theaters’ prices, upgrades still draw in Western Pa.