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Ex-Turnpike chairman pleads to commercial bribery, gets probation, fine

| Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014, 12:30 p.m.

HARRISBURG — Former Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission Chairman Mitchell Rubin pleaded guilty Thursday to a misdemeanor charge of commercial bribery, avoiding prison time through a deal with state prosecutors.

Accused last year in a “pay-to-play” case brought by the attorney general and state police, Rubin, 62, of Philadelphia apologized “for anything I've done wrong.”

“I followed the custom,” Rubin told the court. “I should have followed the law.”

The state will dismiss nine charges in his plea deal. On prosecutors' recommendation, Dauphin County Judge Richard Lewis sentenced him to 24 months of probation, 100 hours of community service and a $2,500 fine.

Rubin's deal does not include any agreement to testify, said his lawyer, Stephen Lacheen.

Rubin left the hearing without talking to reporters.

Attorney General Kathleen Kane alleged an overall scheme involving bid-rigging and bribery — secret gifts to public officials such as trips, sports tickets and dinners. The indictment against eight officials spelled out a “pattern of racketeering activity.”

Rubin was accused of taking a vendor-paid trip that included fishing and golf.

He accepted meals and contributions for political candidates from technology contractor Ciber from 2005 to 2009, according to Senior Deputy Attorney General Susan DiGiacomo.

Ciber was the highest bidder at $3.2 million among six competitors seeking a turnpike contract, including IBM and Deloitte. Ciber won the contract and received a “dramatic and unprecedented” contract increase of $58 million, a grand jury report said.

The grand jury said Rubin had a conflict of interest by steering work to City Line Abstract, for which he received payments of $78,927, $76,208 and $65,098 over three years. That was one of the charges the Attorney General's Office dismissed.

The corruption case gradually has been whittled down to two defendants: former CEO Joe Brimmeier of Ross and George Hatalowich, the former chief financial officer from Harrisburg. They were scheduled to stand trial next week, but the trial has been postponed, said J.J. Abbott, a spokesman for Kane.

“We think it's a reasonable resolution ... in terms of the defendant,” Abbott said of Rubin's plea deal.

Two cases early on were separated because they were based on unrelated charges. Both resulted in pleas.

In August, two vendors were admitted to a program offering probation without a verdict.

Lewis last month dismissed charges against former Senate Democratic Leader Bob Mellow of Scranton, who was convicted of a federal corruption charge in a separate case.

In its findings, the grand jury named Rubin as a close associate of “Senator No. 6,” believed to be former Senate power broker Vincent Fumo.

A Philadelphia Democrat, Fumo was convicted of defrauding the state and a nonprofit in an unrelated 2009 case.

Federal prosecutors alleged Rubin became Fumo's “ghost employee” before former Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell fired him. Rubin in 2010 pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and was placed on five years' federal probation.

Appointed to the turnpike commission in 1998, Rubin was elected chairman in 2003.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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