Guilty Plea Caps Steep Fall for Former Pennsylvania Treasurer Rob McCord

Ex-Pennsylvania Treasurer Rob McCord pleaded guilty Tuesday to two federal counts of attempted extortion, admitting that he tried to use his position to strong-arm state contractors into donating money to his failed gubernatorial campaign.

The plea followed a steep, fast fall from public office for the once-promising candidate for governor. During the hearing in a federal courtroom in Harrisburg, McCord acknowledged the plea agreement that prosecutors filed Feb. 2. He declined comment to reporters afterward.

U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III set a closed-door presentencing hearing for June 29, but did not set a sentencing date. The maximum penalty for each of the two charges is 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

In court, McCord admitted trying to use his position as treasurer to threaten a Philadelphia-based law firm and a western Pennsylvania-based property management firm into donating a satisfactory amount of money to his campaign last spring.

The investigation has fueled speculation in political circles about what led investigators to record McCord's conversations, what took so long to charge him and whether he cooperated against anybody else in the political or finance communities. Those questions remained unanswered Tuesday, and federal investigators have declined to discuss the probe.

McCord, 55, a venture capitalist before he was elected treasurer in 2008, was serving his second term as treasurer when he announced Jan. 29 that he would step down in two weeks and return to the private sector. News reports that he was under federal investigation quickly emerged. A day later, McCord confirmed that he faced criminal charges and made his resignation immediate.

Papers filed in federal court on Feb. 2 described phone calls apparently recorded by prosecutors. In them, McCord suggested to a lawyer and a senior official at the law firm and to a fundraiser dealing with the property management company that the firms could suffer the loss of state government business if they did not contribute enough money to his campaign.

"I essentially said that the potential contributors should not risk making an enemy of the state treasurer," McCord said in a video statement released Jan. 30 by his lawyers.

The firms have not been identified.

As treasurer, McCord made himself a thorn in the side of Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, and his political star rose quickly.

Fresh off his re-election as treasurer in 2012, he dove into a crowded Democratic gubernatorial primary in September 2013.

But by April 2014, when his calls were being recorded, McCord's campaign was faltering despite the injection of $2.2 million of his own money. He finished a distant third to Tom Wolf, a wealthy York businessman who consistently led the polls, won the nomination and ousted Corbett.

McCord, who lives in the upscale Philadelphia suburb of Bryn Mawr, holds a bachelor's degree in economics and history from Harvard University and a master's in business administration from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.

He got his professional start in Washington, working as a congressional aide and later as the CEO of the nonprofit Congressional Institute for the Future. As a venture capitalist, he cultivated a reputation as an aggressive promoter of technology and biotech startups who had a rolodex of wealthy investors and money managers.

Wolf has said he is interviewing candidates to serve out the remaining two years of McCord's term.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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