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Pa. Constables Arrested After Acting as ‘Hired Guns' to Protect Mariner East Pipeline, DA Says

The local prosecutor accused Sunoco of hiring armed security to protect the scene of a sinkhole along one of its controversial pipelines in Chester County, west of Philadelphia.

What to Know

  • Police in Chester County responded Jan. 20 and found a sinkhole five feet by 10 feet. The sinkhole, they said, was from a drainage failure.
  • The Mariner East 1, 2 and 2X pipelines have sparked outrage, controversy and a criminal investigation over the past two years.
  • Mariner East 1 is decades old. East 2 and 2X are being built to take natural gas from a refinery in Delaware County to western Pennsylvania.

Two Pennsylvania constables were arrested Thursday for misusing their elected positions to work as "hired guns" for a natural gas pipeline, according to the Chester County District Attorney's Office.

Michael Robel, 58, and Kareem Johnson, 47, were charged with official oppression, violating the Ethics Act and related offenses, the DA's office said.

Robel is a constable in Northumberland County and Johnson is a constable in Coatesville and serving all of Chester County. 

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"We cannot have elected law enforcement officials hiring themselves out and using their public positions for personal profit," Charles Gaza, Chester County DA chief of staff, said. "It undermines the integrity and independence of law enforcement and our government."

Pennsylvania constables are elected and authorized to serve arrest warrants, transport criminal defendants for court purposes, serve as courtroom security and preserve the peace at polling places. 

They are not, however, authorized to act as private security, which is what the DA's office accused both Robel and Johnson of doing in exchange for thousands of dollars as subcontractors for a Harrisburg-based company.

That company, Raven Knights, allegedly paid Robel $27,995 from 2018 to 2019 to work as private security for the pipeline, according to the DA's office. Johnson was paid $36,785. Both failed to report the additional income on their 2018 Statement of Financial Interests form, which is required by the Pennsylvania Ethics Act.

A spokesperson for Raven Knights said Thursday that he was not aware of the arrests and declined to comment further.

Lisa Coleman, an Energy Transfer spokesperson, said in an emailed statement:

"Constables Johnson and Robel were not Sunoco or Energy Transfer employees. They were employed by Raven Knights, who provided security services and personnel. We have a code of conduct for all of contractors and third party vendors that clearly states what are acceptable behaviors and business practices, and we expect our contractors and their employees to adhere to that."

Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan first became aware of Robel and Johnson shortly after opening a criminal investigation in December 2018 into the Mariner East Pipeline, which runs through portions of Chesco.

Shortly after launching the investigation, the DA's office started hearing rumors that hired guards were protecting the pipeline near Lisa Drive. 

Robel allegedly flashed his badge to a local detective in January 2019 when the investigator responded to residents' complaints of a sinkhole, according to Hogan's office. 

Johnson allegedly interacted with a reporter in June 2018. At the time of the encounter, Johnson was wearing a hard hat, construction vest and displayed a badge with a state seal, according to the DA's office.

Both Robel and Johnson turned themselves into authorities Thursday morning and were arraigned. They are both expected to appear back in court later this month.

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