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Four of eight men charged in Turnpike ‘pay-to-play’ scheme released on bond

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A Dauphin County magistrate judge released on $100,000 unsecured bond four of the eight men charged Wednesday in a “pay-to-play” scheme involving contracts for work on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Attorney General Kathleen Kane (D) announced the charges Wednesday morning.

She detailed a scheme where Turnpike officials would urge would-be contractors to donate to certain politicians in exchange for receiving lucrative contracts. Kane said one engineering firm donated $100,000 between 2002 and 2010. In return, that firm received $9 million in contracts and a $6 million no-bid contract.

“It was the Turnpike creating their own fiefdom. And, it was the Turnpike forcing the vendors, the Turnpike officials forcing the vendors to give to the political campaigns that those Turnpike officials told them to give to,” said Kane.

Among the accused is former state Sen. Robert Mellow (D), who is already in federal prison on corruption charges. Investigators also charged former Turnpike Commissioner Mitchell Rubin, former CEO Joseph Brimmeier, former COO George Hatalowich and former employees Melvin Shelton and Raymond Zajicek. In addition, Turnpike vendor Dennis Miller and Jeffrey Suzenski, a consultant to a vendor, were charged.

To read the grand jury presentment, click here.

The grand jury presentment also mentions “Senator #6” who’s described as high-ranking Philadelphia Democrat who “had a strong influence over everything that happened at the Turnpike.”

The presentment also mentions, but does not name, gubernatorial candidates who received donations from firms seeking Turnpike contracts.

Kane said Mellow is the only politician for whom there is evidence to bring charges.

The presentment details the 60/40 rule by which the party in power at the Capitol would see to it that 60 percent of contracts went to supporters of that party, while the minority party got 40 percent of the contracts funneled to its supporters.

Rubin, Hatalowich, Miller and Suzenski all appeared before a judge Wednesday afternoon. Arrangements are being made for the other four defendants to be arraigned as well.

The four who were in court Wednesday declined to comment to Fox43. However, the attorney for Miller did comment.

“We look forward to defending these charges in court. And, this is only one side of the story. And, as I said we’ll do our talking in court,” said attorney Mark Sheppard.

The Turnpike Commission’s new CEO, Mark Compton, said Wednesday the agency has taken some steps to keep this kind of scheme from continuing. He said those steps include hiring a compliance officer to ensure employees are acting appropriately and adopting more transparent policies for awarding contracts.

“Make no mistake about it. If today’s charges are indeed proven to be true, those actions cannot and will not be defended. But, I must tell you, this is not a reflection on our current employees,” said Compton.