Pennsylvania Representative J.P. Miranda, of Philadelphia, has been charged in a corruption scheme to funnel money to his sister, the city's district attorney announced on Monday.
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said Miranda (D-Pa. 197th) allegedly hired a straw employee to pay his sister, Michelle Wilson, thousands of dollars over several months.
The alleged scheme began after Miranda, 34, tried to hire Wilson, 28, as his chief of staff. Williams said the Democratic state caucus denied the appointment because of their family ties.
To get around the caucus' nepotism rules, the state representative allegedly worked out a deal with Timothy Duckett, who worked as a driver on Miranda's campaign.
Duckett agreed to take a job in Miranda's office with the "sole purpose" of giving a portion of his pay to Wilson, Williams said. He was then hired as a legislative aide in December 2012.
"Duckett was told he did not have to work 40 hours a week for Miranda's legislative office," Williams said. "Miranda also told Duckett that he would only be expected to drive Miranda to different locations when called upon to do so."
Duckett was instructed not to sign in at the state representative's North Philadelphia office and in turn spent his days at a city auto body shop, prosecutors said.
In early December, Duckett began paying hundreds of dollars to Wilson, prosecutors said. Each payment, which ranged from $300 to $900, was detailed in a ledger, kept by Duckett and signed by Wilson each time payment was provided, court documents show.
After making the first payments, Duckett allegedly complained to Miranda that he could not afford his own expenses after giving the cash to the sister. Prosecutors say the representative then gave Duckett a $10,000 raise, bringing his pay to $36,000.
In all, Wilson allegedly took $2,600 in cash from Duckett.
Although Wilson was barred from working on Miranda's staff, Williams said she still acted as if she ran the representative's office.
"But his sister...still in many ways exhibited dominion, control over the legislative office and policies of State Representative Jose Miranda," the DA said.
Despite the evidence provided to the grand jury and Duckett's testimony, both Miranda and Wilson repeatedly lied to the grand jury investigating the case, prosecutors said.
Miranda represents Pa.'s 197th legislative district which covers parts of North Philadelphia, East Falls and Strawberry Mansion. He was first elected to the Pa. House of Representatives in November 2012.
He spent time working for Philadelphia Council President Darrell Clarke and as a spokesman for Pa. Sen. Shirley Kitchen, according to his biography.
Miranda and Wilson each stand charged with one count of Conflict of Interest, Conspiracy to Commit Conflict of Interest and Perjury -- all felonies. If found guilty, the duo could spend up to 17 years in prison and face a $35,000 fine.
The representative will continue to hold his seat until he resigns, his term expires or he is convicted of a crime, state officials said.
Miranda and Wilson are set to turn themselves in to the DA's office on Tuesday, the DA's office said. Miranda's attorney offered no comment on the charges.
Duckett was granted immunity in exchange for his testimony.
"NO LONGER CONTENTED WITH CORRUPTION"
Williams said Miranda's indictment is the first time in "collective memory" that the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office investigated and prosecuted an elected official from the city.
"I am proud that this office, that for so long has been silent on these types of cases will no longer abdicate our responsibility to investigate and prosecute corruption to other authorities," he said.
Citing a 1903 investigation from famed political journalist Lincoln Steffens in which he called Philadelphia "corrupt and contented," Williams said his office will no longer defer to other agencies to root out corruption in the city.
In the future we will continue to work with the U.S. Attorney and the Pennsylvania Attorney General when appropriate, but we will not be afraid to try these cases ourselves," Williams said. "From day one, I have promised Philadelphians we will have the same standard of justice for everyone regardless of your color, regardless of what zip code you live in, regardless of who your father is and how much money you have in your bank account."
The DA also dolled out kudos to his special investigations unit and public corruption task force -- a group he called his "dream team." Williams said the task force is not meant to be a "gotcha" that will only go after politicians, but also protect lawmakers when they become the victim of corruption.