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Vendor: Turnpike officials received gift certificates to Nemacolin Woodlands for years

| Friday, June 28, 2013, 9:39 a.m.

HARRISBURG — A Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission vendor testified on Friday that he gave gift certificates for the posh Nemacolin Woodlands resort, worth a combined $6,100, to two top agency officials.

Ex-Commissioner Bill Lincoln of Dunbar and Chief Operating Officer George Hatalowich received the gifts each December from the owner of Sucevic Piccolomini & Kuckar Engineering, which received $4.1 million worth of turnpike contracts from 2005-10, the company owner and a grand jury report said.

The testimony was given on the fifth and final day of a preliminary hearing.

“It was Christmas, and I thought it would be nice to give them a gift,” said Dominic Piccolomini, the firm's owner. The gift certificates cost $700 apiece until 2009, when he increased the amount to $1,000 each. The gifts flowed from 2005 to 2010.

It was a goodwill gesture, not tied in any way to the contracts, Piccolomini said.

Lincoln, a former Senate Democratic leader, received immunity from state prosecutors. Hatalowich, originally from Uniontown, continues to face criminal charges.

District Justice William Wenner said attorneys will return on July 16 for closing arguments. He said he'll decide then which charges will move forward to Common Pleas Court. The charges range from commercial bribery to bid-rigging for some defendants.

Hatalowich, 47, of Harrisburg; former 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 in the hearing.

Dennis Miller, 51, of Harrisburg, a vendor vice president, and Jeffrey Suzenski, 63, of Pottstown, a vendor consultant, also are accused. Suzenski faces only a charge of restricted activities. Prosecutors dropped two theft charges against Miller on Friday.

Piccolomini said under cross-examination by attorney William Fetterhoff that Hatalowich never asked for gifts.

Lincoln resigned from the commission when the grand jury issued its findings in March.

Mellow has been in solitary confinement since his arraignment in June, his attorney Daniel Brier said. Mellow is serving a 16-month federal prison sentence for his conviction last year of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. He waived his right to appear at the hearing.

In other testimony, a former PNC official said a bank subsidiary paid for a $7,000 dinner to honor Mellow at Sparks Steakhouse in Manhattan. It was held on a Pennsylvania Society weekend in December 2007.

Anthony Lepore, Mellow's chief of staff, testified Monday that Mellow intervened to help PNC Capital Markets get turnpike bond work. After Mellow's advocacy for PNC — his attorneys say it was akin to constituent work — PNC Capital Markets received $2.4 million in underwriter fees from 2006 to 2012, the grand jury said.

Ted Hanson, formerly of PNC Capital Markets, said the Pennsylvania Society dinner was approved internally, under PNC's code of ethics. He said he did not know Mellow was contemplating a run for governor at the time.

Under cross-examination by Brier, Hanson said similar dinners were held for other politicians in previous years, and there was no quid pro quo for the bond work.

Brier suggested PNC Capital Markets got more bond work under the administration of Republican Gov. Tom Ridge than under former Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell. PNC has had other business with the turnpike for years, Brier said.

Sal Cognetti, another lawyer of Mellow's, urged Attorney General Kathleen Kane to review the record and dismiss the charges.

“I didn't hear a crime articulated in the courtroom,” said Cognetti.

Kane's spokesman Dennis Fisher declined to comment.

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

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