A onetime top aide to former Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell is scheduled to plead guilty Tuesday to wire fraud for pocketing thousands of dollars in supposed campaign contributions from a fake company set up by the FBI to investigate public corruption in the state.
A plea agreement filed in federal court in Harrisburg last month said John H. Estey told agents in 2011 that lawmakers would help the phony company in exchange for $20,000 in campaign contributions.
Corporate campaign donations are illegal in the state, as is tying campaign donations to promises by public officials to take any sort of official action. Estey had agreed to distribute the donations in a way that would hide the company's role, but ended up using $13,000 for his personal use after distributing just $7,000 to lawmakers, court papers said.
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Estey's agreement to plead guilty is bumping up against the five-year statute of limitations for wire fraud. The plea agreement said Estey faces a maximum possible sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, but it also said prosecutors could ask the court to consider his cooperation when deciding on a sentence.
In court filings, federal prosecutors said the FBI set up the fake company, which they did not name, to investigate allegations of public corruption. They did not reveal the nature of those allegations, but agents posing as its executives first made contact with Estey in 2009, after he had left the Rendell administration. Estey represented the company through 2011 as an owner of an unidentified Philadelphia-based lobbying firm, court papers said.
Federal prosecutors and Estey's lawyer have not revealed what led the FBI to Estey, or whether Estey cooperated with authorities.
Former federal prosecutors say the extent of the FBI's approach to the investigation that ensnared Estey suggests that more arrests are likely.
The case has prompted speculation that Estey led investigators to former state Treasurer Rob McCord, who resigned his post and pleaded guilty to extortion counts after he was recorded in 2014 trying to strong-arm contributions to his failed gubernatorial campaign. McCord awaits sentencing.