Turnpike CEO Directs New Accountability Measures

The head of the Pennsylvania Turnpike says the commission is making a clean break from any past offenses.  After reading the grand jury presentment that led to criminal charges being filed in a “pay-to-play” corruption scheme, CEO Mark Compton tells Radio PA that his emotions went from disappointment to outrage.

“The one thing that I can assure our traveling public, to them and to our employees, both of you deserve better and we are going to make darn sure that these things never happen again.”

On Monday Compton ordered the Office of Compliance to conduct a review of every contract awarded during the timeframe of the Attorney General’s investigation and called for a memo to be sent out to Turnpike vendors, explaining the commission’s revised procurement policies.  Compton’s also asking that all Turnpike employees sign their existing code of conduct. 

This is all coming less than two months on the job for Compton, who is taking action to ensure past mistakes aren’t repeated again. 

The new accountability directives at the Turnpike are in addition to the reforms Compton pointed out in a statement released immediately following last week’s grand jury presentment.

Charges Reveal Pay-to-Play History at Turnpike

A years-long grand jury investigation finds that in order to get big Pennsylvania Turnpike contracts… you had to pay-to-play.  Eight men now face criminal charges: one former lawmaker, five former Turnpike Commission officials and two businessmen.  The biggest name in the bunch is former state Senate Democratic Leader Bob Mellow, who’s already serving a federal prison term on corruption charges.  Others charged include former Turnpike CEO Joseph Brimmeier and former Turnpike Commissioner Mitchell Rubin. 

The charges include: bribery, bid-rigging, corruption and theft.

The charges include: bribery, bid-rigging, corruption and theft.

“According to the charges, those who pay-to-play have sought and been rewarded with multi-million dollar Turnpike contracts and the public has lost untold millions of dollars,” says Attorney General Kathleen Kane who announced the grand jury’s findings on Wednesday. 

Kane says the Turnpike created its own fiefdom, whereby officials forced vendors to make hefty contributions to the political campaigns of their choosing.

Joining Kane in the Capitol Media Center was State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan, who encourages the public not to paint all state employees & officials with the same brush of corruption.  “There were numerous state employees who tried to stand up for the right things to do,” Noonan says.  “They were terminated.  They received poor evaluations and they were isolated.  They knew something was wrong but they couldn’t do anything about it.” 

‘The right thing’ is what the new CEO says the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is doing today.  In a statement, Mark Compton says he’s troubled by today’s news:

“If charges against former Turnpike employees are indeed proven, we certainly cannot – and will not – defend that.  But I can say these actions definitely don’t represent the hard-working men and women who keep our road open and safe for customers….”  Compton’s statement goes on to point to a number of accountability reforms enacted at the Turnpike in recent years. 

All eight defendants will be prosecuted in Dauphin County; the investigation is ongoing.

Lawmaker Convicted in Political Corruption Trial in Harrisburg

Representative Bill DeWeese

A long time member of the state house has been convicted on political corruption charges.    The jury returned the verdict in Harrisburg this morning on the third day of deliberations.

Greene County Democrat Bill DeWeese was convicted of three counts of theft and one count each of conspiracy and conflict of interest after he was accused of using taxpayer paid staff for campaign-related work. The former house leader was cleared of one count of theft.  Despite the conviction, DeWeese says he will seek re-election.  He says his petitions are out in his precincts.  He believes in the court of public opinion, he shall be favorably received.

DeWeese says he feels he did nothing wrong.  He believes a Western Pennsylvania jury would have found him innocent. His attorney vows an appeal. 

DeWeese does not have to surrender his house seat until April, when he’s sentenced and his conviction becomes officials.  Prosecutor Ken Brown from the Attorney General’s office says “He’s a convicted felon and convicted felons, once they’re sentenced can’t sit in the General Assembly.” Brown says if DeWeese wants to “spit in the face of the jury’s verdict, I guess that’s his prerogative.”  

DeWeese says he will be attending Tuesday’s budget address.  He says he’s still a member of the General Assembly and he’s asked the House Democratic leader to appoint him to the committee to escort the Governor.

DeWeese was the only sitting lawmaker to face trial in the five year long political corruption investigation that began when Governor Corbett was the state’s Attorney General.


Ex-Speaker Perzel Pleads Guilty, Will Cooperate

Flanked by two attorneys and wearing a dark blue suit, former Speaker of the House John Perzel stood in front of Dauphin County Judge Richard Lewis, Wednesday, to enter his guilty plea.  The Philadelphia Republican did not speak to reporters as he entered or left the third floor courtroom, but he did release a written statement. 

It reads: “…The truth is that as the legislative leader of my caucus, I oversaw the spending of millions of dollars in taxpayer funds, and I bear the responsibility for the improprieties that occurred in the spending of those dollars.”  Perzel also expressed regret for his actions.  “You had a right to expect better from me, and I am sorry I let you down,” the statement concludes. 

Perzel pleaded guilty to 8 of 82-charges that were leveled against him in 2009.  They range from conflict of interest, to theft, to conspiracy.  He could face a maximum of 24-years behind bars, but the standard minimum sentence is 18 – 50-months.  The charges also carry $50,000 dollars in fines. 

Frank Fina - Bonusgate

Prosecutor Frank Fina talks to reporters after former Speaker John Perzel pleaded guilty.

“Whenever we have somebody of this responsibility and this position stepping forward and pleading guilty, and taking responsibility for illegal conduct, I think it is an important event,” Chief Deputy Attorney General Frank Fina told a tightly-packed gaggle of reporters.   Fina says the plea agreement includes Perzel’s cooperation – and likely testimony – as the political corruption cases proceed. 

A former Perzel aide was also in the courtroom, Wednesday, to plead guilty.  It brings to five the number of guilty pleas out of the 10- Republican House members and staffers who were charged in the second round of the “Bonusgate” investigation.  The political corruption probe also indicted 15-Democrats in phases I and III of the investigation. 

A 188- page grand jury presentment from November of 2009 concluded that Perzel was the mastermind of a sophisticated scheme that spent more than $10-million taxpayer dollars for campaign work. 

Political activist Gene Stilp of Taxpayers and Ratepayers United thinks Perzel’s guilty plea breathes new life into the ongoing political corruption investigation.  “If he cooperates with the prosecution, many people in the House and the Senate should be worried,” Stilp says.