Feds probe DRPA’s economic development

A federal grand jury is investigating the Delaware River Port Authority’s use of bridge toll funds for economic development and other purposes.

DRPA spending has been a source of controversy for years, and last Thursday a grand jury subpoena was served seeking authority documents and emails related to economic development projects. A 2012 New Jersey Comptroller’s report found the authority funded more than $400 million worth of projects unrelated to its bridges and other assets.

Former U.S. Attorney Peter Vaira said he wasn’t surprised the feds came knocking.

“They collected a lot of money and loaned it out to places far from the waterfront,” Vaira said in a phone interview. “One would say, is that really the goal of this port authority?”

The DRPA board is historically populated with politically influential figures from New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Most of the board members are appointed directly by the two states’ governors. Insitutions that received authority funds range from a community group associated with convicted former Sen. Vince Fumo to nonprofits such as the Philadelphia Orchestra and WHYY.

It’s unclear which grants or loans authorities are interested in, but DRPA spokesman Tim Ireland said the feds will get all documents they need.

“We are cooperating fully, and all our employees have been instructed accordingly,” Ireland said in a prepared statement. “We will make sure that our compliance with the subpoena demonstrates the renewed committment to transparency reflected in reforms passed recently by the DRPA commissioners.”

A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office declined comment on the subpoena.                           

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