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Former Senate leader's lawyers say Turnpike corruption charges 'double jeopardy'

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Monday, Aug. 18, 2014, 6:15 p.m.
 

HARRISBURG — A federal prosecutor on Monday testified that he agreed to give case files on former Senate Minority Leader Robert Mellow to the Pennsylvania attorney general's office at a December 2012 meeting with a state prosecutor and state trooper.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Francis P. Sempa testified in Dauphin County Court in a pretrial hearing for Mellow, who is among state officials accused in an alleged “pay-to-play” scheme at the turnpike commission.

Mellow, sentenced to 16 months in federal prison for an unrelated conspiracy charge that involved using Senate staff for campaigns, is arguing through his lawyers, Daniel Brier and Sal Cognetti Jr. of Scranton, that the state charges filed in March 2013 violate his protections against “double jeopardy.”

His attorneys are seeking dismissal of the charges.

State prosecutors accused the Scranton Democrat of acts of corrupt organization, bribery, bid-rigging and ethics violations in connection with turnpike commission practices.

Mellow and five other former officials are set to go on trial in November.

When the federal and state prosecutors met in Harrisburg, “vindictiveness met opportunity,” Mellow's lawyers claim in a court filing.

Sempa's delivery of FBI and Internal Revenue Service files to Senior Deputy Attorney General Laurel Brandstetter is at the heart of Mellow's claim that federal authorities encouraged the state to file additional charges, violating his constitutional rights.

The state case does not involve the same conduct, Brandstetter argued in response. There's no evidence the federal charge addressed illegal activity involving the turnpike commission, she stated.

Sempa testified he did not encourage the filing of charges in state court.

Judge Richard Lewis, who took the arguments under advisement, said Mellow's lawyers have an uphill battle unless they can show the state and federal governments charged him with the same thing.

“It's not the same offense,” Brier said. “It's the same conduct.”

In addition to Mellow, those awaiting trial include former turnpike chairman Mitchell Rubin of Philadelphia and former agency CEO Joe Brimmeier of Ross. They maintain their innocence.

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

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