HARRISBURG (KDKA/AP) – Five of the eight men charged earlier this year in an investigation of corruption at the Pennsylvania Turnpike were due to appear in court for a preliminary hearing expected to last five days.
The proceeding got under way Monday in county court in Harrisburg.
A former chief of staff to former Pa. Sen. Robert Mellow testified that when Joe Brimmeier was named CEO of the Turnpike Commission, he told him “I’m your guy, you can trust me.”
Tony Lepore, testified as the first government witness in the preliminary hearing for Brimmeier and others in the Turnpike scandal case on Monday. He said he took that to mean that Brimmeier was going to “look out for Bob Mellow and Senate Democrats and when things were happening, regarding jobs, we’d know about it.”
Brimmeier and Mellow are among the defendants in the case.
Lepore testified he would take requests for jobs or contracts to defendant Mitch Rubin, a former Turnpike commissioner, involving issues in eastern Pennsylvania, since Rubin was close to former Sen. Vincent Fumo, of Philadelphia.
He testified he would go to Brimmeier regarding issues in western Pennsylvania because Brimmeier is from the Pittsburgh area.
Lepore also testified that Mellow lobbied for PNC Capital Markets to get Turnpike bond work. But, Mellow’s attorney got Lepore to admit PNC was highly qualified, given its size and experience, to do the work.
Brimmeier faces charges including bid-rigging, bribery and conspiracy.
A total of eight people have been charged in the case.
During cross examination, Brimmeier’s attorney asked Lepore if he ever had occasion to question Brimmeier’s integrity, or whether Brimmeier ever asked Lepore to do anything wrong.
Lepore replied, “No.”
The preliminary hearing to determine whether there’s enough evidence to hold a majority of the defendants for trial is expected to continue for several days. Other defendants have preliminary hearings scheduled for later this year.
Mellow has waived his appearance in person, but his lawyers will be there. Mellow is serving a federal prison sentence for an unrelated corruption conviction.
Court officials say the witness list contains more than 30 names.
Another defendant is former Turnpike Commission Chairman Mitchell Rubin.
A seventh defendant’s hearing was continued and an eighth’s was waived.
(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)