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Another black eye for the State of Corruption?

| Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012, 9:03 p.m.

HARRISBURG

On the corruption front, there is an explosion set to occur before the end of the year, or early January at the latest.

A statewide grand jury for two years has been prying into the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, an agency with a track record of sleaze and corruption.

The grand jury is investigating “employment practices, procurement practices and the use of Commonwealth resources to conduct political activities.” That is an official statement from the state attorney general's lawyers — a rarity since grand jury proceedings are secret. It was part of a document unsealed by the Supreme Court.

It wound up before the Supremes as a result of the commission's outside lawyers appealing a ruling by the grand jury judge, who refused to provide a “protective order.” That was first reported this summer by The Legal Intelligencer of Philadelphia.

The grand jury could indict as many as six ex-employees of the turnpike who worked there under Democrat Gov. Ed Rendell. Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, the former attorney general, opened the Turnpike Commission investigation. When Corbett became governor in January 2011, the investigation was passed on to his successors, acting Attorney General William H. Ryan Jr. and Attorney General Linda Kelly, after her confirmation in May.

“Six” comes from the Harrisburg rumor mill. There might not be any indictments (or “presentments,” as the state calls them). And the grand jury could issue an investigative report outlining poor and questionable practices.

Using commonwealth resources for political activities could be the key.

A blistering report was issued in May 2011 on the Gaming Control Board, outlining a culture of secrecy and “non-criminal misconduct.” Such reports are designed to highlight major problems, enabling lawmakers to fix the laws where warranted.

The reason we know indictments or a report are forthcoming is that Kelly is already a lame-duck attorney general. Her term ends in January when Kathleen Kane takes over as the first woman elected as the state's top prosecutor.

These aren't the kinds of things that get passed along to the next person taking the job.

But the grand jury also could do nothing, which would be a huge waste of state resources and tax dollars.

The other item to watch is the current attorney general's investigation of the Hershey Trust, once headed by LeRoy Zimmerman, a longtime friend and supporter of Corbett's and father-in-law of the man Kane defeated, Cumberland County DA David Freed. GOP ties run deep in the trust, set up by Milton Hershey to oversee a school he established for underprivileged kids.

Does the Hershey Trust civil investigation get resolved under Corbett's appointee (Kelly)? Or does it get passed along to Kane, who might dig deeper?

It should be noted Kane received a $100,000 contribution from ex-Hershey Trustee Robert Reese, who at one point sued the trust over alleged improprieties.

Brad Bumsted is the state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media (717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com).

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