Democratic state Rep. Jose “J.P.” Miranda and his sister will stand trial on felony corruption charges tied to an alleged plot to funnel taxpayer dollars from a “ghost employee” to the latter.
In late January, a grand jury indicted the pair for allegedly asking Timothy Duckett Jr. to hand over a portion of his bi-monthly paychecks to Miranda’s sister, Michelle Wilson.
Wilson and Miranda also allegedly lied before the grand jury about the nature of Duckett’s employment and Wilson’s role in her brother’s office.
‘Ghost employee’ testimony
During Friday’s lengthy preliminary hearing, Duckett said the freshman lawmaker hired him to be a full-time legislative aide at his district office in North Philadelphia.
Duckett said he drove and escorted Miranda to and from Harrisburg and other events, but that he never worked 40 hours a week for him.
Miranda allegedly told Duckett that he wasn’t required to log his whereabouts on office sign-in sheets like other staffers.
“I was on call,” said Duckett.
Money allegedly changes hands
A couple months after he was hired, Duckett said Miranda started asking him — via text message — to give Wilson money from his paychecks. The amounts, always delivered in cash, were often a significant portion of those tallies.
On at least two occasions, Wilson initialed a ledger Duckett kept to keep track of the transactions, he said, but there were never any discussions with either Miranda or Wilson about the exchanges.
For a time, Duckett complied with his boss’ requests. Eventually, though, he became fed up after shelling out $1,700 over the course of three pay periods. At the time, Duckett’s salary was $26,000.
“I couldn’t give no more money up,” said Duckett, who quit shortly thereafter.
Reported ethics-code violations
Duckett — granted immunity by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office in exchange for his testimony during the grand jury process — also testified on Friday that Wilson was a supervisor at Miranda’s North Philadelphia office.
“If we had any problems or questions, we can ask her for directions,” said Duckett.
The rules and ethics code of the House Democratic Caucus of the Pennsylvania General Assembly bars lawmakers from hiring relatives to work in their offices.
Wilson applied to be Miranda’s chief of staff and was even approved for hire before a Caucus became aware of the pair’s family tie.
Duane Lilley said Friday, however, that Wilson essentially ran her brother’s office. He said he was hired to be Miranda’s chief of staff, but Wilson performed those duties, and was in the office at least 40 hours a week.
“She gave us our assignments. She told us what to do,” said Lilley of Wilson, who previously worked in Fourth District City Councilman Curtis Jones’ office.
Lilley said he was routinely told not to attend events hosted by the office and that Miranda purchased a computer for his sister because she could not use a state-issued one.
To Miranda’s defense
Following Friday’s hearing, A. Charles Peruto Jr., Miranda’s lawyer, maintained that there was no proof that Duckett was a ghost employee and that there are a number of political staffers working for family members.
Peruto said Miranda is being “singled out” by Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams because the two were dating the same woman at the same time.
“This is one way to eliminate your competition,” said Peruto, who has recent bad blood with Williams related to the case of a woman found dead in the former’s home. “If next time I want to date a girl, and I want to get rid of a guy she might like, what I’ll do is I’ll have her indicted or have him indicted. That would be nice.”
Peruto declined to reveal the woman’s identity.
Tasha Jamerson, spokeswoman for the District Attorney’s Office, brushed off Peruto’s comments.
“The evidence in this case — which includes videotape, text messages, bank statements and testimony by Miranda’s own staff — speaks for itself,” she said. “The other comments by this defense attorney are not only ludicrous, they are completely false.”
Miranda and Wilson each face three felony charges: Conflict of interest, perjury and criminal conspiracy. The siblings will be arraigned on March 21.
Miranda was elected in 2012 and serves parts of North Philadelphia and Northwest Philadelphia, including East Falls.
Peruto said Miranda “absolutely” intends to run for re-election for this year.