Plenty of cirucmstantial evidence in Turnpike cases
By Brad Bumsted
Published: Saturday, July 6, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Pay to play is difficult to prove. That was evident in the preliminary hearing for Pennsylvania Turnpike defendants, some of whom are accused of raising campaign money or taking gifts in return for state contracts.
It is called quid pro quo; I give you this in return for that.
Not one of the 19 prosecution witnesses who testified at a five-day hearing for six of the defendants said there was any agreement, discussion, even a hint of a trade-off. There was plenty of circumstantial evidence against some officials, especially former turnpike Chief Operating Officer George Hatalowich, being given sports tickets, travel, accommodations and gift certificates from turnpike vendors.
Overall, there were lavish dinners, barbecues, poker games — sponsored or offered by or with turnpike vendors.
Engineering firms with turnpike business, and some without, were solicited by turnpike officials for campaign money — typically money for gubernatorial or Senate campaigns.
There certainly was testimony of contracts, apparently being rigged — one seemingly as a political favor.
Multiple witnesses stated they did not believe the gifts or contributions bought influence with turnpike officials.
Consider Tony Lepore, former chief of staff to ex-Senate Minority Leader Bob Mellow, one of the defendants. Mellow went to bat for a PNC subsidiary to get turnpike commission bond work. A regional PNC vice president took Mellow to Yankees games. PNC sponsored a reception at Sparks Steak House in Manhattan in connection with a Pennsylvania Society outing. PNC held receptions in other years for other pols, according to testimony. Many other large institutions or special interests do the same in the annual New York City outing for Pennsylvania pols.
Lepore said the trips to Yankees games were “probably not” to influence Mellow. In his conversations with Mellow, the former Democrat senator never said he helped the PNC regional official because of the tickets provided by a longtime friend, Lepore said.
Taking a step back, it's not a strong case. But one must keep in mind that prosecutors often provide just a slice of their evidence at a preliminary hearing. They need enough only for a district judge to find sufficient evidence to hold the defendants for court.
While defendants might be upbeat about the testimony, there's a downside: If the cases are bound over for Dauphin County Common Pleas Court, the chances for conviction go up. Dauphin County juries have shown no tolerance for political corruption or even hints of it.
Just ask most Democrat defendants in the Bonusgate case and Republican defendants in the Computergate scandal. To ask several of them, you'll need to be on the visitors lists at a few state prisons.
Brad Bumsted is the state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media (717-787-1405 or email@example.com).
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Penguins’ Orpik taken off ice on stretcher in loss to Bruins
- Breaking down the Pirates’ needs entering winter meetings
- Rossi: Penguins’ Orpik among select NHLers going without gluten
- Steelers still have something worth playing for
- Steelers-Dolphins play to watch: 5 wide gun fake Y screen
- Ex-Pirates great Parker’s long wait for Hall of Fame could finally end
- Rampant misuse of antibiotics poses growing global threat, experts warn
- Kovacevic: On Melancon, Mandela, molding
- Controversial Rooney Rule has opened door for NFL minority coaching candidates
- Robinson: Video review reveals Steelers coach’s sideline movements in Baltimore were out of character
- Investors put squeeze on prospective homeowners’ American dreams