For a little under a decade, certain state legislators allegedly had free access to the toll baskets of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
On March 14, Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane released an 85-page grand jury presentment outlining the Turnpike’s “pay-to-play” scandal. Eight people were charged, including former Senate Democrat leader Robert Mellow and former Turnpike Commission Chairman Mitchell Rubin.
According to testimony, if a high-ranking state senator was in need of fast campaign financing, he would place a call into the Turnpike, which would turn around and notify contractors, lawyers and consultants that if they wanted to take part in contracts and services in the future, a contribution was needed now.
“The Turnpike is the Mesopotamia River,” said an unidentified person who testified in the grand jury hearing. “All of the animals come and drink here.”
“Evidence of secret gifts, cash, travel and entertainment, and the payment of substantial political contributions to public officials and political organizations by private turnpike vendors and their consultants, demonstrates that the Turnpike operates under a pay-to-play system that is illegal and corrupt,” said Kane.
The scheme was set up in 2003, when then Turnpike CEO Joseph Brimmeier met with Ed Rendell, who just won the race for Pennsylvania governor, Mellow and Mellow’s chief of staff, Anthony Lepore, to work out the details. According to the grand jury report, a “60/40 rule” was put into action. Firms connected with the party in power, usually in the governor’s office, received 60% of the work from the Turnpike. The report also said state Senate leaders decided who go what.