A peek inside the Pa. Turnpike Commission

| Saturday, April 20, 2013, 9:00 p.m.


He was a “bully” and the Pennsylvania Turnpike was his “playground.”

Those words come directly from a grand jury report last month regarding Raymond Zajicek, whose salary as fare collections operations manager was nearly $110,000 when he retired in 2011. His record was “fraught with absenteeism.” He was unqualified for the position and he was “computer illiterate,” the report claimed.

Zajicek's friendship with ex-Turnpike CEO Joe Brimmeier guaranteed his position and generous raises, the grand jury said.

He had his staff to do political work and non-turnpike work such as “placing orders with Lands' End and Victoria's Secret and special ordering Zajicek's cologne.”

Under surveillance by attorney general's agents for a month in 2011, Zajicek spent minimal time doing turnpike work and instead spent most of his days running personal errands. He drove a Chevy Tahoe supplied by the agency and refueled at will on the turnpike. The grand jury said he used the vehicle improperly after work hours.

He went away for two days with his girlfriend and allegedly instructed his secretary to record that he worked eight hours both days and to lie about it to the Legal Department.

Zajicek's story and that of another politically connected ex-turnpike official, Melvin Shelton, are significant because of the behind-the-scenes picture they paint of life at the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.

Keep in mind these are only allegations in a grand jury report and that both men are innocent in the eyes of the law.

Their stories are also noteworthy because both men are exceptions to the pay-to-play case laid out by the grand jury in a separate presentment last month.

Six other former turnpike officials face allegations from bribery to bid-rigging for fixing contracts for contributors.

The charges against Zajicek , 67, of Tarpon Springs, Fla., and Shelton, 81, of Philadelphia were lumped together with the others by the media when they are actually distinct. They are essentially cases of payroll fraud and misuse of state vehicles. Zajicek also faces an assault charge for calling a union official a “punk” and then swinging away.

No discipline resulted from his buddy, Brimmeier, with whom Zajicek enjoyed frequent lunches and dinners at high-end restaurants on the turnpike's tab.

Shelton worked twice for the agency and the grand jury focused on his second stint, which began in 2004 as assistant director of projects in Eastern Pennsylvania. An internal turnpike probe nailed him for falsifying his work hours and taking his state car home. Campaign materials were discovered in his car.

Shelton was the Philadelphia ward chairman in the ward where Congressman Robert Brady resides. Brady also is the Democrats' party chairman in Philadelphia.

Shelton's relationship to Teamsters Local 77 was crucial. Part of his job was to “get rid of grievances they had” and to make sure any Democrat fired by the agency got his or her job back, the grand jury said.

Discovered in his office, in addition to political materials, were speeding and parking tickets and traffic violations — forwarded to the Democratic City Committee.

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

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