8 Charged in Turnpike Pay-to-Play Scandal

By MARK SCOLFORO and MARC LEVY
|  Wednesday, Mar 13, 2013  |  Updated 1:14 PM EDT
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Turnpike Pay-to-Play Scandal

Ronen Boidek, Shutterstock

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A former state Senate leader and seven others have been charged in a ``pay to play'' case involving the Pennsylvania Turnpike, state prosecutors said Wednesday.

Attorney General Kathleen Kane said the eight are accused of criminal activity for their financial and political advantage. A grand jury heard evidence that cash, travel, entertainment and political contributions were secretly provided to public officials and political groups by turnpike vendors and their consultants, Kane's office said in a news release.

The defendants include former state Senate Democratic Leader Bob Mellow, former turnpike chairman Mitchell Rubin and former turnpike chief executive Joe Brimmeier. Three former turnpike officials were also charged: George Hatalowich, 47, of Harrisburg, the former chief operating officer; Melvin Shelton, of Philadelphia; and Raymond Zajicek, of Tarpon Springs, Fla.

The other defendants are two turnpike vendors: Dennis Miller, of Harrisburg, and consultant Jeffrey Suzenski, of Pottstown.

The allegations include conspiracy, commercial bribery, bid rigging, theft and conflict of interest.

Kane said the grand jury found ``substantial evidence'' that Mellow directed an aide to help key contributors and supporters obtain turnpike contracts.

"The public has lost untold millions of dollars,'' Kane said. ``The greatest improper influence was exerted over the turnpike's procurement process.''

The investigation began several years ago and has been conducted largely in secret.

In 2009, turnpike officials disclosed it had received a subpoena from state investigators.

More recently, a dispute over lawyer-client privilege between the attorney general's office and the turnpike has been argued before the state Supreme Court. In that matter, the grand jury judge wrote in April that the investigation centered on ``employment practices, procurement practices and the use of commission resources to conduct political activities.''

The turnpike figured tangentially in the federal criminal case against former state Sen. Vince Fumo, convicted of fraud and related charges in 2009, because his co-defendant was married to Rubin, the turnpike chairman. The Fumo aide, Ruth Arnao, was also found guilty at that trial.

Rubin served six months of house arrest for obstruction after admitting in 2010 that he misled FBI agents and a federal grand jury.

Gov. Ed Rendell had ousted Rubin in March 2009, citing what he called "overwhelming'' evidence in trial testimony that Rubin had been paid $150,000 for a no-work job for the Appropriations Committee under Fumo, a Philadelphia Democrat. Fumo is currently in a Kentucky federal prison.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has about 2,100 employees and an operating budget of about $315 million. It manages 552 miles of turnpike, and last year it served about 192 million vehicles.

Four turnpike commissioners are chosen by the governor, subject to state Senate confirmation. The fifth commissioner is the state transportation secretary.
 

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