HARRISBURG — The Senate Democrats’ chief of staff testified Monday that caucus leaders relied on Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission officials for campaign donations from agency vendors and for patronage jobs.
Anthony Lepore said he conveyed requests from former Senate Democratic Leader Bob Mellow and ex-Senate power broker Vincent Fumo to ex-Turnpike CEO Joe Brimmeier and Turnpike Chairman Mitch Rubin.
Lepore described himself as an intermediary between Mellow and Fumo, between whom there was “no love lost.” Rubin was “Vince Fumo’s guy,” he said.
Brimmeier, 65, and Rubin, 61, are among six defendants at a preliminary hearing before District Justice William Wenner. Eight Turnpike defendants face political corruption charges filed by the state Attorney General’s Office.
Attorney General Kathleen Kane, speaking to the Pennsylvania Press Club, said her office filed charges “against eight officials who were using the Turnpike to line their pockets and influence elections. The Turnpike is no longer a piggybank used to fund greed and promote corruption.”
The Senate maintained a “very close” relationship with the Turnpike, whose members the governor nominates and the Senate confirms, Lepore said.
Though senators relied on the Turnpike for jobs such as toll takers, Mellow, who had a close friendship with a PNC bank official, wanted the Turnpike to use PNC Capital Markets for bond work, Lepore said.
Mellow and Pete Danchak, a PNC executive from Mellow’s district, were “tight,” Lepore said. Lepore approached Brimmeier and Rubin to help arrange work for PNC, he said.
One of Mellow’s attorneys, Daniel Brier, portrayed the effort to help PNC secure bond work as constituent work. Asked whether it was appropriate constituent work directed by Mellow, Lepore said, “Yes.”
Danchak took Mellow to New York Yankees’ baseball games, Lepore testified, and on one trip they rode to the stadium in a limo and ate in an Italian restaurant.
On another occasion, a PNC-sponsored dinner at Spark’s Steakhouse in Manhattan honored Mellow, Lepore said.
“PNC paid for it,” he said.
That dinner happened during a Pennsylvania Society weekend, when lawmakers and others in government and politics attend receptions in New York, often for politicians interested in higher office, Lepore said. Mellow though about running for governor, he said.
Under cross-examination by Mellow’s lawyers, Lepore said taking Mellow to Yankees games probably was not an attempt to influence Mellow. He said Mellow also tried to help because PNC, the largest bank in Pennsylvania, did not have Turnpike bond work, Lepore said.
He never discussed a “quid pro quo” with Brimmeier, Lepore said in response to questions from Brimmeier’s attorney, William Winning. Lepore described Brimmeier as “a top-notch guy,” and said he never questioned Brimmeier’s integrity and honesty.
The grand jury presentment said PNC received $2.4 million in underwriting fees from the Turnpike from 2006 to 2012 because Lepore intervened on Mellow’s behalf.
For Mellow and Rubin, this is not their first brush with prosecutors.
Rubin in 2009 pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in a federal prosecution of Fumo, who is serving a 60-month sentence for defrauding millions of dollars from the state Senate, a Philadelphia nonprofit he founded and a seaport museum. Rubin admitted to holding a no-show $30,000 Senate job that Fumo arranged. Then-Gov. Ed Rendell fired Rubin as Turnpike chairman following Fumo’s conviction.
Rubin served 6 months’ house arrest.
Mellow pleaded guilty in 2012 to conspiracy to commit mail fraud for failing to report income to the IRS and using Senate resources and staff for fundraisers and campaigns. He is serving a 16-month federal sentence. Mellow was not present for Monday’s hearing and his attorneys are fighting the Turnpike charges.
Sal Cognetti, another Scranton lawyer representing Mellow, said the state prosecution subjects Mellow to “double jeopardy.”
Lawyers for several defendants asked the judge to dismiss charges, many claiming the charges are vague. Wenner said he would consider their arguments.