Transportation
3:06 pm
Wed March 13, 2013

Eight Charged in T-Pike "Pay to Play" Scandal

Eight people are being charged for their alleged involvement in what the state attorney general is calling a “pay to play” scheme at the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.

Attorney General Kathleen Kane said a grand jury investigation, which began in 2009 after public complaints, found that the Turnpike Commission has been awash with improper influence.

“Evidence of secret gifts of cash, travel, 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,” said Kane.

Among those charged are former Democratic state Senator Bob Mellow, former Turnpike Commission CEO Joe Brimmeier, four other former Turnpike officials and employees and two men who had contracts with the roadway.

Kane said the grand jury found that Mellow had his top aide secure Turnpike contracts for key contributors.

“Former state Senator Mellow also directed that his chief of staff task individuals at the Turnpike with providing political support and fundraising efforts on his behalf,” she said.

Beyond contributions, the grand jury also found that Mellow secured contracts for those who gave him gifts, and the freebies went unreported, in violation of the state’s ethics law.

Police Commissioner Frank Noonan said the grand jury’s report shows the contracts with the Turnpike hinged on political support.

“The reason they made these contributions and provided these gifts was because that’s the way they knew they would get these contracts,” he said.

Noonan said he believes that the Turnpike has changed since the investigation into such corrupt schemes began in 2009. That was echoed by Turnpike CEO Mark Compton who said while the charges are concerning, they shouldn’t damage the current commission.

“Make no mistake about it. If today’s charges are indeed proven to be true, those actions cannot and will not be defended,” he said. “But I must tell you; this is not a reflection on our current employees. Since my arrival, what I can tell you is the culture at the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is not what’s portrayed in media reports.”

The statute of limitations for the charges filed is eight years, so the charges filed only cover alleged crimes dating back to 2001, for an investigation that began in 2009.

All of the defendants are being brought before a judge this week to enter a plea — except for the single legislative official charged. Mellow will be arraigned next week. He’s serving a federal sentence in South Carolina for pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud.

The full list of those charged:

  • Robert Mellow, 70, of Archbald, former state senator currently serving federal prison term in South Carolina on unrelated corruption counts.  Charged with two counts corrupt organizations, two counts of restricted activities, one count of commercial bribery, one count of unlawful bid-rigging, one count of restricted activities, one count of criminal conspiracy and one count of failure to file an expense account.
  • Mitchell Rubin, 61, of Philadelphia, former turnpike commission chairman. Charged with three counts of unlawful bid rigging, two counts corrupt organizations, two counts of restricted activities, one count of commercial bribery and one count of criminal conspiracy.
  • Joseph Brimmeier, 64, of Pittsburgh, former turnpike chief executive officer. Charged with two counts corrupt organizations, two counts of unlawful bid-rigging, two counts of restricted activities, one count of commercial bribery, one count of criminal attempt and one count of criminal conspiracy.
  • George Hatalowich, 47, of Harrisburg, former turnpike chief operating officer. Charged with seven counts of restricted activities, three counts of unlawful bid-rigging, two counts of corrupt organizations, one count of commercial bribery, one count of criminal attempt and one count of criminal conspiracy.
  • Dennis Miller, 51, of Harrisburg, former vice president of state and local government and education at turnpike vendor Ciber. Charged with one count of unlawful bid-rigging, one count of theft by unlawful taking, one count of theft by deception, one count of restricted activities and one count of criminal conspiracy.
  • Jeffrey Suzenski, 63, of Pottstown, senior government affairs specialist at a Harrisburg law firm. Charged with one count of restricted activities.
  • Melvin Shelton, 81, of Philadelphia, former turnpike employee. Charged with two counts of theft by unlawful taking, two counts of theft by deception, two counts of misapplication of entrusted property and property of government or financial institutions, one count of unauthorized use of automobiles and other vehicles, one count of perjury and one count of false swearing.
  • Raymond Zajicek, 67, of Tarpon Springs, Fla., former turnpike employee. Charged with two counts theft by unlawful taking, two counts theft by deception, two counts of misapplication of entrusted property and property of government or financial institutions, one count of unauthorized use of automobiles and other vehicles and one count of simple assault.