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Western Pennsylvania firms figure in grand jury report

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Thursday, March 14, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

Western Pennsylvania plays a prominent role in the state grand jury presentment detailing political corruption at the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Several companies with regional ties figure heavily in the 85-page presentment, though none is charged with wrongdoing. The report also questions contract awards for area turnpike projects.

An unidentified former vice president at Cumberland County-based Mackin Engineering Inc. told the grand jury that “prize design contracts went to the people who contributed the most” to political campaigns for which turnpike officials solicited money.

Failing to contribute enough cost Mackin design contracts related to the controversial Mon-Fayette Expressway project, the executive testified. The turnpike has spent about $2 billion since the late 1980s on the project.

The Mackin executive recalled turnpike officials extending an invitation to a gubernatorial fundraiser. The company made the minimum donation requested, though the amount wasn't specified. After failing to land any Mon-Fayette Expressway design contracts, the executive learned the 13 companies that won work contributed more.

“We believed that making political donations enhanced our ability to get another contract or a larger contract,” testified Robert Pintar, vice president of CDM Smith, which has an office on the North Shore.

Pintar testified that he gave architectural work to a firm started by Brimmeier's sister, Jan Brimmeier, after she was fired by another company that had a contract with Pintar's firm. Pintar, who could not be reached, said turnpike Chief Operating Officer George Hatalowich recommended the boss' sister.

Allentown-based McTish, Kunkle & Associates, which has a Pittsburgh office, contributed $277,516 to various statewide candidates between 2002 and 2010, the grand jury said.

It gave gifts to turnpike officials, including a $4,000 travel voucher to Hatalowich. The firm put up Hatalowich in a Pittsburgh apartment and provided him with Pirates tickets in 2006 and 2008, respectively.

Between 2003 and 2010, the firm landed three turnpike contracts, totaling $57.2 million. It was a subcontractor on at least three other turnpike projects.

“Thinking about it now, it wasn't the right thing to do,” company President Matthew McTish told the grand jury.

He did not return telephone calls.

Sucevic, Piccolomini & Kuchar Engineering Inc. of Uniontown gave Hatalowich and turnpike Commissioner William Lincoln, a former Fayette County lawmaker, gift certificates to Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Fayette County totaling $6,100 between 2005 and 2010. In the same span, the turnpike awarded contracts totaling $4.1 million to the company.

An unidentified company official testified it nixed the gifts because of the grand jury investigation. Vice President Perry M. Schweiss declined comment.

Downtown-based Orbital Engineering received turnpike contracts totaling at least $4.25 million between 1999 and 2007 — though an unidentified former turnpike official expressed concern about awarding work to Orbital instead of more qualified companies, the grand jury said.

The official testified that an Orbital executive, identified as the president, called to complain when the engineer refused a change-order request. On other occasions he complains about not being paid for work done.

“He said, ‘I'll call Joe Brimmeier ... he's a friend of mine. I'll call him up and have this straightened out.' ”

Later, the executive told the engineer in a voice mail, played for the grand jury: “I don't want to have to tell Brimmeier that you and I aren't getting along. He hates hearing that.”

Orbital President Robert Lewis dismissed the claims.

“It's all sour grapes. That's what caused the precipitation of (the employees) no longer being at the turnpike,” Lewis said.

PNC Bank didn't handle turnpike financial work before 2005. That's when former state Senate Democratic leader Robert Mellow and his chief of staff Tony Lepore stepped in to help Pennsylvania's largest bank, the grand jury said.

An unidentified PNC vice president testified that he often took Mellow to Yankees games in New York City in a limousine, where they would sit five rows behind the dugout. PNC gave Mellow tickets to Rod Stewart and Bryan Adams concerts and a “Dancing with the Stars” event in Wilkes-Barre. The bank honored the senator at an event at a New York steakhouse.

Between 2006 and last November, PNC worked on 14 bonds, earning underwriter fees totaling almost $2.5 million, the grand jury said.

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

 

 

 
 


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