Former Pa. lawmaker faces year in prison over scheme to thwart ethics rules

 Former Pennsylvania Rep. Jose 'J.P.' Miranda has pleaded guilty to using a 'ghost employee' to funnel taxpayer dollars to his sister. (Pennsylvania House of Representatives/AP Photo)

Former Pennsylvania Rep. Jose 'J.P.' Miranda has pleaded guilty to using a 'ghost employee' to funnel taxpayer dollars to his sister. (Pennsylvania House of Representatives/AP Photo)

A former Pennsylvania lawmaker could spend up to a year in jail after pleading guilty to using a “ghost employee” to funnel taxpayer dollars to his sister.

Last January, rookie state Rep. J.P. Miranda and Michelle Wilson were charged with conflict of interest, perjury and criminal conspiracy – all felonies – in connection with a scheme hatched after Wilson learned state nepotism laws barred her from being Miranda’s chief of staff.

Miranda hired Timothy Duckett to be a full-time legislative aide at his district office in North Philadelphia, but told him he never had to work 40 hours a week, just be “on call.”

During February’s preliminary hearing, Duckett said Miranda later asked him — via a series of text messages — to give Wilson money from his paychecks.

For a time, Duckett complied with that request, but became fed up after shelling out $1,700 over the course of three pay periods. At the time, Duckett’s salary was $26,000.

A Miranda staffer testified that Wilson, while not on the payroll, effectively ran his office.

Under a plea deal entered this week in Common Pleas Court, Miranda now faces one felony count for an “ethics violation” and one misdemeanor count of “false swearing.”

Wilson is also charged with “false swearing.”

Assistant District Attorney Marc Costanzo, who prosecuted the case, said the charge is tied to Miranda and Wilson lying to a grand jury about the arrangement with Duckett.

“It’s the first time in recent history that I can remember a sitting state representative being arrested for felonies and ultimately pleading guilty to felonies,” said Costanzo. “I think the message is clear that those in office and those thinking of being in office should do so honorably.”

Charles Peruto, Miranda’s lawyer, could not be reached for comment. He has said he intends to argue for probation during sentencing.

A hearing is scheduled for March 24.

Miranda was elected in 2012 to lead the 197th Legislative District. He’s now out of office after losing May’s Democratic primary.

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