8 charged in multimillion-dollar Pa. Turnpike corruption probe

    A sweeping grand jury investigation into contracting practices at the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has led to charges against eight people, including a former state senator and the Turnpike’s former chief executive officer.

    The three-year investigation, beginning in 2009, alleges tit-for-tat arrangements were rampant at the Pennsylvania Turnpike, costing the state millions of dollars.

    The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has been awash with improper influence, said state Attorney General Kathleen Kane, that has cost the public “untold millions of dollars.”

    “Evidence of secret gifts of 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,” Kane said.

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    Five former officials and employees of the toll road are facing charges, including former CEO Joe Brimmeier in connection with conspiracy, theft, and commercial bid-rigging. Two businessmen who had Turnpike contracts are also being charged.

    Police Commissioner Frank Noonan says the grand jury’s report shows the big contracts with the Turnpike hinged on political support.

    “The reason they made these contributions and provided these gifts was because that’s the way they knew they would get these contracts,” Noonan said Wednesday.

    The grand jury found that several politicians accepted gifts and campaign contributions from groups seeking business with the Turnpike, but only one public official was charged — former Democratic state Sen. Bob Mellow.

    Kane’s office says Mellow will be arraigned next week, when he is transported from the federal prison in South Carolina where he’s serving a sentence for pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud.

    The rest of the defendants are being brought before a judge this week to file pleas to the charges.

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