PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — For a prosecution that began with such a bang, as Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced the indictments — “The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has been corrupted by improper political influence from its very own officials” — it ends with plea deals and not a single official sentenced to jail time.
“Prosecutors have enough evidence to bring a case, but we don’t know how strong that evidence is,” observed Prof. John Burkhoff of the University of Pittsburgh Law School. “We don’t know what a risk it might have been had the case actually gone to trial.”
The investigation, started by then-Attorney General Tom Corbett, alleged a pay-to-play scheme where Turnpike officials sought freebies and political donations.
In an 83-page presentment, one state senator, five Turnpike officials, and two business executives were charged, including Turnpike CEO and Ross Township resident Joe Brimmeier.
The prosecution claimed companies were required to lavish gifts and political donations in order to get turnpike business.
“The reason they made these contributions and provided these gifts because they knew that was the way they would get the contracts,” noted State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan at the time.
Brimmeier — a long-time Allegheny County official — was named Turnpike CEO by Gov. Ed Rendell in 2003.
On Thursday, Brimmeier pled guilty to a felony conflict of interest count, admitting he took hospitality from engineering firms and then tried to steer Turnpike contracts to them.
As part of the plea deal, Brimmeier was sentenced to five years of probation, 250 hours of community service, and a $2500 fine, but no jail time.
Burkhoff said for the prosecutors the plea bargain avoids the risk of an acquittal.
As for the defendant, “They’ve got the stigma of the criminal conviction and for the most part what that means is their professional career is over.”
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