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Turnpike COO added contractors' names to lists for consideration, witness says

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013, 10:36 a.m.
 

HARRISBURG — The son of a powerful Democratic congressman who landed a top-level Pennsylvania Turnpike job in 2003 testified on Tuesday that while serving on a review committee to evaluate contractors, the agency's chief operating officer added names of companies he wanted to be considered.

The review panel never turned down George Hatalowich's add-ons, said Robert F. Brady, director of operations and projects in the East and son of U.S. Rep. Robert Brady of Philadelphia.

Hatalowich, 47, of Harrisburg faces bribery and bid-rigging charges in a Turnpike Commission “pay-to-play” scandal. He is among six of eight defendants whose preliminary hearings are under way before District Judge William Wenner.

Better-known defendants in the case are former Senate Minority Leader Robert Mellow, 70, of Scranton and ex-Turnpike CEO Joe Brimmeier, 65, of Ross. The Attorney General's Office alleges influence peddling and awarding of multimillion-dollar contracts in connection with campaign donations, gifts and favors.

The defendants' lawyers say their clients are innocent.

Hatalowich's additions to the engineering department's lists would go to the five-member commission, Brady said.

On one occasion, Hatalowich asked him to change his vote. “I just didn't want to do that,” Brady said.

He told Hatalowich's attorney, William Fetterhoff, he did not believe the recommendations were based on “any corrupt motive” and that the instance in which Hatalowich asked Brady to change his vote was to break a tie.

Brady told Brimmeier's attorney, Megan Scheib, that Brimmeier never asked him to do anything improper.

Another politically connected turnpike official who sat on a vendor review committee said Hatalowich sometimes suggested names he wanted to add to lists.

Carmen Marrone, whose son was married to the daughter of ex-Senate power broker Vincent Fumo, who is not charged in the case, said he was testifying under a grant of immunity. His son, Christian, testified against Fumo, a Philadelphia Democrat. Mellow and Fumo are in federal prison on unrelated corruption charges.

A senior vice president of a turnpike contractor testified the company didn't know its consultant working with the agency owned 40 percent of one of its subcontractors.

“It would create a conflict of interest,” said Robert Bell of TransCore, referring to Jeffrey Suzenski's part ownership of Twin County Construction. TransCore works on revenue collection and EZ Pass for the turnpike.

Deputy Attorney General Clarke Madden asked Bell whether he was aware that TransCore's consulting fees paid to Suzenski's Commonwealth Consulting totaled $2.4 million. Bell said he didn't know the amount and noted the agreement with Suzenski, 63, of Pottstown ended when they found out about his part ownership in Twin County Construction.

The number of years the fees covered was unclear. Prosecutors said later it overlapped with Suzenski's part ownership of the subcontractor.

Defense attorneys objected to Ball's use of the term “conflict of interest” because he's not a lawyer. Ball said he meant it in a general sense.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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