Of the Legal Staff
Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane has announced charges against a former state Senate leader, the former commissioner of the Pennsylvania Turnpike and six others in what Kane called a “pay to play” scheme where vendors were given turnpike work in exchange for political contributions.
Among those charged are former Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Mellow, a Lackawanna County Democrat, who has already pleaded guilty to unrelated conspiracy charges, and Mitchell Rubin, the former commissioner of the turnpike.
Two other former Turnpike Commission executives and two former employees have also been charged, as well as a turnpike vendor and a vendor consultant.
According to a press release from Kane, a grand jury investigation turned up evidence of a scheme in which secret gifts of cash, travel and entertainment were exchanged and “substantial political contributions” were made to public officials and political groups. The scheme has cost Pennsylvanians millions of dollars of public money, Kane said.
"The grand jury found that these men were using the turnpike to line their pockets and to influence elections," said Kane. "That is stealing from the public, pure and simple."
Specifically, the release said, Mellow directed his chief of staff to secure turnpike contracts for big donors and supporters. He also told his chief of state to order people at the turnpike to provide political support and raise campaign funds on his behalf.
The Pennsylvania State Police and the Office of the Attorney General have been investigating the Turnpike Commission since 2009. The case has also sparked a separate case between the Turnpike Commission and the state over whether communications between representatives of a stage agency and its attorneys are privileged, which is currently pending before the state Supreme Court.
Mellow was sentenced to 16 months in state prison last November after pleading guilty to using his legislative staff for political work and tax fraud.
Following Kane’s announcement, the commission’s CEO, Mark P. Compton, released this statement:
“We understand how important it is to maintain the public’s trust. And certainly, we’re troubled by today’s news from Attorney General Kane’s office,” Compton said. “If charges against former turnpike employees are indeed proven, we certainly cannot — and will not — defend that. But I can say that these actions definitely don’t represent the hard-working men and women who keep our road open and safe for customers. In the time that I’ve been here, the turnpike that I have experienced first-hand is quite different than the one that I’ve heard about in media reports.”
Compton noted that, in the past two years, the Turnpike Commission has hired a chief compliance officer, adopted a more rigorous and transparent process for awarding professional-services contracts, and has made efforts toward hiring a “more diverse pool of contractors and service providers to bid on our projects.”
Ben Present can be contacted at 215-557-2315 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BPresentTLI.