PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — It’s hard to drive on the Pennsylvania Turnpike without running into construction somewhere — much of it needed.
But in an 85-page presentment a grand jury has found that some turnpike commissioners, officials, and political leaders awarded contracts based on gifts, favors, and political contributions.
“Evidence of secret gifts of cash, gifts, and entertainment, and the payment of substantial political contributions to public officials and political organizations by private turnpike vendors and their consultants demonstrates that the turnpike operates under a pay-to-play system that is illegal and corrupt,” PA Attorney General Kathleen Kane said today.
Kane said eight men are charged with a variety of offenses, including former state Senator and Democratic Leader Bob Mellow, former turnpike commissioner Mitchell Rubin, and former turnpike CEO and North Hills resident Joe Brimmeier.
“The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has been corrupted by improper political influence from its very own officials and individuals who do business with the turnpike,” added Kane.
Kane said the pay-to-play bribery, bid-rigging, and theft cost taxpayers and those who use the turnpike millions of dollars.
“Of course, it makes us all very angry, and we should not be spending our taxpayer’s money for this,” said one driver on the turnpike today.
“It’s taxpayer money, and they’re not looking after the best interests of the public, and it’s public money,” said another.
Brimmeier most recently was appointed to the Port Authority Board, but Allegheny County executive Rich Fitzgerald said today that Brimmeier has resigned from that board.
The scheme is called pay to play — powerful and influential government officials require those doing business with the government to lavish gifts, perks, and campaign contributions in order to get government contracts.
And that’s what Kane says the Turnpike Commission has been doing.
Mellow, Rubin, Brimmeier and the others were with bribery, theft, bid-rigging, and conspiracy.
The grand jury found that many contractors were asked to give money to candidates before getting turnpike contracts,
One local company, Mackin Engineering, bidding on work for the Mon-Fayette Expressway was told to make certain contributions. It did, but lost out to others who made larger contributions.
PNC Bank, the grand jury found, could not get bond work with the turnpike until it provided limos, dinners, and Yankee baseball tickets to Mellow.
They were hardly alone, as pay-to-play was part of doing business.
“The reason they made these contributions and provided these gifts was that they knew that was the way they would get the contracts,” said Frank Noonan, the commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police.
Neither PNC, Mackin Engineering, or many others named in the grand jury report are charged with any crime.
The attorney general said today the scheme — coming from political leaders and turnpike officials — cost taxpayers millions of dollars.
Kane said she hopes this case — and ongoing investigations of other agencies — will signal that pay-to-play is illegal — and no way to do business in Pennsylvania.
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