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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Pennsylvania Turnpike defendants challenge corruption evidence; North Coventry man among those charged

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

HARRISBURG (AP) — Attorneys for defendants in the state’s case of alleged Pennsylvania Turnpike corruption argued at a pretrial hearing Monday that the case is flawed and should not move forward.
Six men — former state Sen. Robert Mellow, former turnpike commissioner Mitchell Rubin, former turnpike CEO Joseph Brimmeier, former turnpike COO George Hatalowich, vendor Dennis Miller and a consultant for a vendor, Jeffrey Suzenski of North Coventry, Chester County, Pa. — were charged last year by Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s office in a case that alleged widespread corruption and bid-rigging at the Turnpike.
The men were allegedly part of a “pay-to-play” scheme, the attorney general alleged when the grand jury presentment was unveiled last year after a 44-month investigation.
Defense attorneys spent the day Monday trying to poke holes in the commonwealth’s allegations. Lawyers for several defendants argued that prosecutors could not prove any “quid pro quo,” meaning there was no evidence campaign contributions or gifts were made by vendors or others with the explicit promise of action on the part of Turnpike or elected officials.
“You have campaign contributions and you have contracts,” but that does not prove one caused the other, said Mark Sheppard, an attorney for Miller.
Sheppard also accused prosecutors of selectively prosecuting his client, noting that if bid-rigging and bribery were so widespread, “how is it that one vendor — only one vendor — in all of these cases gets charged?”
Miller is the only vendor being prosecuted.
Other firms that made large donations and received larger contracts were not charged in the case, Sheppard said, but “my client’s campaign contributions weren’t enough to get him out of this.”
Similarly, Michael Engle, an attorney for Suzenski, said the state had not shown any evidence of “quid pro quo” in the case of his client.
Engle noted such a test is a crucial element in proving corruption, and pointed out the attorney general’s office — when explaining why it had not prosecuted several officials from Philadelphia for allegedly accepting envelopes of cash in a sting case earlier this year — noted that sting “failed to establish the critical criminal element of ‘quid pro quo’ or cash payments directly in exchange for official action,” Engle said, reading from a news release from the attorney general’s office at the time.
“Political contributions aren’t inherently nefarious. They aren’t inherently evil,” said attorney David Shapiro, arguing on behalf of Rubin.
Attorneys for Rubin and others argued his case should be separated from the other defendants’ for a number of reasons, among them that he wanted to wait and obtain more discovery documents related directly to his case, and the other defendants preferred a speedier trial.
Common Pleas Judge Richard Lewis will continue the hearing in Dauphin County Common Pleas Court today.

Kate Giammarise:, 717-787-4254 or on Twitter @KateGiammarise.



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