Prosecutors in the trial of a suburban Philadelphia investment adviser began playing the FBI’s secretly recorded phone calls of ex-state treasurer Rob McCord on Wednesday, with jurors hearing McCord dangling enticements to pump cash into his failing campaign for governor.
Wednesday was the start of what could be several days of testimony by McCord, the star witness in defendant Richard Ireland’s trial. Ireland is accused of trying to bribe McCord with more than $500,000 in secret campaign contributions in what prosecutors call part of a yearslong scheme to land lucrative contracts to invest taxpayer dollars.
In two spring 2014 phone calls recorded by the FBI, jurors heard McCord pitching Ireland for campaign contributions, or for help getting some, in the final days of his failed run for governor in a four-way Democratic Party primary.
McCord made a reference to his ability, as governor, to appoint a majority of the board overseeing the $26 billion state employees’ pension fund and influence how money there was to be invested.
“If we could win this, SERS (State Employees Retirement System) alone is such a big deal at this point,” McCord tells Ireland.
McCord, who’s from Montgomery County, was elected state treasurer in 2008 and 2012 but abruptly resigned two years ago before pleading guilty to two counts of attempted extortion.
McCord’s downfall was attempting to use his position as treasurer to strong-arm donations to his gubernatorial campaign. On Wednesday, prosecutors revealed that one of McCord’s targets was William Sasso, a prominent Republican campaign fundraiser and chairman of Philadelphia-based law firm Stradley Ronon Stevens and Young.
McCord is awaiting sentencing, and Ireland’s lawyers say McCord is trying to get someone else, in this case Ireland, to do his prison time.
Before McCord resigned, he recorded more conversations for federal authorities, wearing a wire in his final months as treasurer, an element of his cooperation first acknowledged by federal prosecutors in Ireland’s three-day-old trial.
McCord testified Wednesday that he had been behaving like a “salesman” in soliciting campaign contributions, and had been hoping to leave the lasting impression that Ireland could “bet on me and, whatever you bet, you’ll get a good investment.” But Ireland’s lawyers say McCord used Ireland, not the other way around.
In a voice message days later, Ireland told McCord that he could not get the money on a tight time frame.
“We’ve been there for you, and we’re gonna be there for you, but I just can’t meet your time schedule,” Ireland said in the message on May 5, 15 days before the primary election won by Tom Wolf, Pennsylvania’s current governor.
Ireland closes the message with, “after things settle down, we will be able to get back on schedule.”
The calls were recorded by the FBI over 60 days that spring as it investigated McCord.
By that point, prosecutors say, Ireland had already been funneling cash for six years to McCord’s campaigns through friends, family members, businesses and employees of his Valley Forge-based business.
Later in the year, Ireland went on to pressure McCord to get the SERS to invest money in an index fund created and licensed by Ireland and give him more money, prosecutors say. But Ireland’s lawyers say he never sought an exchange of official action for campaign contributions and he hid the contributions to a Democrat, McCord, to avoid the ire of fellow Republicans.
Ireland and his partner in VFIM Corp., Brian G. McElwee, shared in millions of dollars in Treasury Department fees paid to client firms since 2000.