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'Senator No. 6' was the real turnpike boss

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Saturday, March 16, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
 

HARRISBURG

Senator No. 6 must be laughing wildly in his federal prison cell in Kentucky.

A state grand jury report recommended criminal charges against eight people, including former Senate Minority Leader Bob Mellow, former turnpike CEO Joe Brimmeier and former turnpike Chairman Mitch Rubin. The eight were charged following a three-year investigation by the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office, a probe initiated by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett when he was AG, passed on to his appointed successor, Linda Kelly, in 2011 and, in January, handed off to Democrat Attorney General Kathleen Kane. There was some question whether the grand jury investigation would survive a new administration, especially since it pointed at Democrats under the administration of former Democrat Gov. Ed Rendell.

To her credit, Kane, a Democrat, pulled the trigger on the explosive report alleging widespread corruption at the Turnpike Commission.

Senator No. 6 is none other than Sen. Vincent Fumo, D-Philadelphia, the former Senate power broker whose identity was thinly disguised in the grand jury report. The report portrayed Mellow, also a federal inmate serving a corruption sentence, as controlling the pursuit of campaign money from turnpike vendors and helping to steer contracts to favored contributors. It suggests Mellow and Fumo were calling the shots at the beleaguered agency. Perhaps because Fumo isn't named, he doesn't seem to be the powerful force he actually was.

Mellow sounds like “the man” running the game. But surely, Fumo, convicted of fraud charges in March 2009 and serving a 60-month sentence, was the top dog for Democrats at the Turnpike Commission — and everywhere else. Mellow was more of a figurehead.

Kane, however, said there was no evidence to charge Fumo with crimes in the turnpike scheme.

It's odd, though, that Mellow is the only elected official named in the report. During the past decade, Fumo and former Senate President Pro Tem Robert Jubelirer, R-Altoona, had the most influence at the Turnpike Commission. Jubelirer has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

Take Brimmeier, for instance. Is it part of the “job description” for the turnpike's CEO to raise money for the governor? Or was he doing so, if the charges are correct, at someone's behest? Rendell says he was unaware of the allegations. So Brimmeier would take this risk for kicks? Who was telling or asking him to raise money for gubernatorial candidates? Mellow? I doubt it. Not Fumo either.

Back to Fumo and why he is howling with laughter.

Buried in the report are these isolated statements that give rise to a clearer picture of Fumo:

• “Senator 6 from Philadelphia was very, very powerful. He had a strong influence in everything that happened at the Turnpike.”

• “Everybody … owed him favors. So when he talked people listened.”

• Senator No. 6 picked Rubin for chairman; when “he (Fumo) was out and about, you had to look a foot behind him and there was Mitchell Rubin.”

With the chairman as his pal, Fumo had Turnpike Commission action in the bag.

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

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