Prosecutor in turnpike corruption case resigns from AG post
HARRISBURG — The lead prosecutor in the attorney general's office handling the Pennsylvania Turnpike corruption case has resigned, but the office said the state will be “prepared to proceed” at trial, slated for November.
Laurel Brandstetter, who was based in the Pittsburgh office, could not be reached for comment. Former colleagues and defense attorneys said she resigned, although the reason was unclear.
J.J. Abbott, a spokesman for Attorney General Kathleen Kane, said he could not comment on personnel matters.
“We will be ready to proceed” at trial, he said. Asked who will replace Brandstetter, Abbott said: “I can't comment on that.”
A pretrial hearing on legal issues is scheduled to begin on Monday before Dauphin County Judge Richard Lewis.
Kane's office has accused former turnpike officials of “pay-to-play” in a multimillion-dollar scandal. Defense attorneys claim the case is weak and their clients are innocent.
Prosecutors allege bid-rigging, conflict of interest and influence peddling. Six former officials were held for trial, including longtime politico Joe Brimmeier of Ross, the agency's former CEO under ex-Gov. Ed Rendell.
Prosecutors claim the former employees, a powerful senator and vendors took part in corrupt activities, including contract awards and raising campaign money, and in return received gifts and trips. Some ex-officials allegedly were entertained at barbecues, poker games and sporting events.
The charges, ranging from commercial bribery to conflict of interest, were filed in March 2013 based on an 85-page indictment. The grand jury investigation began under Gov. Tom Corbett, the former attorney general.
The senator accused in the case is Robert Mellow, a Scranton Democrat, who served as president pro tempore, the Senate's highest post, and then as minority leader. He was convicted in federal court and served a prison term in a case involving the use of state resources for campaigns. Sentenced to 16 months in prison in November 2012, Mellow served a portion of his sentence in a halfway house.
His attorneys argue the state charges amount to double jeopardy because the charges in the turnpike case stem from the initial FBI investigation in the case filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office. That's one of the legal issues to be aired next week.
Brandstetter unsuccessfully prosecuted Beaver County Sheriff George David last month on misdemeanor charges of threatening an online reporter and intimidating a deputy sheriff.
Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter.
Reach him at 717-787-1405 or firstname.lastname@example.org.