Turnpike staffer testifies about contractor's cozy dealings with officials
HARRISBURG — Testimony at a preliminary hearing Wednesday in a pay-to-play scandal at the Pennsylvania Turnpike included allegations of gifts to agency officials.
During the third day of the hearing, expected to last through Friday, testimony began to emerge about agency officials and vendors also raising campaign money, mostly for top Democrats.
Prosecutors allege officials rigged contracts in return for campaign donations and gifts, travel and perks from turnpike vendors. Six defendants face charges at the hearing before District Justice William Wenner.
Former turnpike CEO Joe Brimmeier, 65, of Ross; former agency chairman Mitchell Rubin, 61, of Philadelphia; and former Senate Democratic leader Bob Mellow, 70, of Scranton are among the defendants. They include former Turnpike Chief Operating Officer George Hatalowich, 47, of Harrisburg; Dennis Miller, 51, a vendor; and vendor consultant Jeffrey Suzenski, 63, of Pottstown. They face charges from bid rigging and bribery to conspiracy. Suzenski faces one count of restricted activities.
In testimony on Wednesday, former turnpike chief of staff testified that Miller, a vice president of Ciber Inc., told her that he was embarrassed that a holiday gift he gave Hatalowich didn't compare well with gifts others gave the official.
Deborah Davis, the former staff director, did not specify the gift and under cross-examination said she did not know its value.
Davis testified that Brimmeier invited her to attend a $5,000-per-person fundraiser for former Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell's 2006 re-election when she asked how she could help. She said she attended but believed she was not able to pay the full amount.
Under cross-examination by Brimmeier's attorney William Winning, Davis testified that Brimmeier did not pressure her in any way.
Davis said she had concerns about a 2005 computer project that Ciber Inc. won with a bid higher than five other bidders, including IBM and Deloitte Consulting.
At the start of meetings on the project, Miller and Hatalowich would begin “talking about the night before and the dinners,” Davis said. Sometimes they talked about poker games, she said.
“George (Hatalowich) had a very personal relationship with Dennis (Miller),” she said.
James A. Smith, a former senior vice president of Buchart Horn Inc., an engineering firm, testified it was important to attend fundraising events or firms “probably wouldn't be noticed.” He said Hatalowich in 2006 asked him to contact “four or five people” from other engineering firms to let them know about a Rendell fundraiser.
Rendell has denied any involvement or knowledge of the pay-to-play allegations.
A Ciber subcontractor, George Droll, testified Miller asked him to donate $1,000 to ex-Senate power broker Vincent Fumo's re-election campaign. Droll said he “had no idea who Fumo was.” The Philadelphia Democrat is in federal prison on separate corruption charges.
Droll wrote the check but declined when Miller asked him to run a trip to Mexico for turnpike officials.
“It just didn't feel right,” Droll said.
Defense attorneys said there is a First Amendment right to donate to campaigns.
Hatalowich twice asked for tickets to Pirates games and an apartment for guests, said John J. Porter, the Western regional manager for McTish Kunkel & Associates in Pittsburgh. A string of emails shown on a large screen in the courtroom showed their discussion about tickets occurred with other dialogue about when the turnpike would announce projects that would interest McTish.
Under cross-examination, Porter said Hatalowich did not provide details about contracts or who won the bidding.
Through questioning, William Fetterhoff, Hatalowich's attorney, also established that the tickets added no extra cost for McTish since they regularly bought season tickets.
At the hearing, prosecutors must provide sufficient evidence to take the case to trial in Common Pleas Court.
Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
- Pirates top Cardinals, 5-2, on Davis’ homer; Alvarez, McCutchen hurt
- For Steelers outside linebacker Jones, size is not an obstacle
- Steelers notebook: Team cuts 15 players, including LB So’oto, RB Hall
- Dem Wolf eyes shale’s ‘golden egg’ to boost school funding
- Elizabeth officials combat juvenile problems
- Latrobe law firm’s secretary pleads guilty to income tax evasion
- Steelers cornerbacks Allen, Gay, Taylor have something to prove
- Indiana County township ‘afraid for the water’ fights waste well
- $8 million Duquesne Light facility opens in McKeesport
- McKeesport police get firsthand look at new crime-fighting tool
- RAD funding hike sought for Renzie Park