Authorities say Pennsylvania state Rep. Jose “J.P.” Miranda (D-197), and his sister, are facing felony charges after they allegedly hired an auto-mechanic to help secretly “funnel” taxpayer dollars to the sister.
During a Monday afternoon press conference, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said that Miranda, 34, and Michelle Wilson, 28, approached the mechanic about being a “ghost employee” after they learned that Wilson could not serve as Miranda’s legislative chief of staff.
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.
In December 2012, Miranda hired Timothy Duckett Jr. as a full-time aide in his legislative office with a salary of $26,000.
Miranda, however, allegedly told Duckett that he would not have to work 40 hours per week and that he would only be called on “when he needed him.”
He would, though, have to hand over a “portion of his pay” to Wilson.
Wilson was allegedly serving as Miranda’s unofficial chief of staff, said Williams — a fact that both she and Miranda lied about when they gave testimony.
“Many people who would walk into that office would think that she was the chief of staff. Some of the employees thought they couldn’t do some things unless they had her approval,” said Williams.
Duckett did, on occasion, drive Miranda to Harrisburg and community events, according to the indictment.
The pair was charged Monday with conflict of interest, perjury and criminal conspiracy.
Duckett was granted immunity in exchange for his testimony during the grand jury process — “to get to the bigger fish,” said Williams.
“For a long time it appeared that these types of cases would not be investigated nor prosecuted, but that is no longer the case. We will no longer abdicate our responsibility to investigate and prosecute corruption to other authorities,” said Williams.
Williams said an investigation was launched in May 2013 in response to a FOX29 report that centered on Miranda and Duckett.
In it, cameras captured Duckett working at his auto body shops when he was supposed to be working in Miranda’s legislative office. Miranda was also captured speeding off in his car after being approached by reporter Jeff Cole.
A call to Miranda’s cellphone went straight to his voicemail, which was full.
Wilson answered her cellphone, but promptly hung up after a reporter identified himself.
Miranda and Wilson are expected to surrender to authorities Tuesday morning. If convicted, the pair could spend several years in jail.
Miranda was elected in 2012 and serves parts of Northwest Philadelphia, including East Falls. He is up for re-election this year.
Bill Patton, spokesman for House Democrats, said Monday that Miranda will remain a member of the General Assembly until and unless he is convicted.
“We continue to watch the situation closely, but we’re not contemplating any action. The legal process has to play out on its own schedule,” said Patton.
Zach Stalberg, president of the Committee of Seventy, the good-government watchdog organization, said even if Miranda isn’t convicted, it’ll be hard for him to earn a second term.
“It certainly doesn’t help his political career. Sometimes folks who have been in office for a long time are able to squeeze on by this kind of thing, but in this case, as a rookie lawmaker, the others in the party and especially the constituents are not going to overlook it easily,” said Stalberg.
Miranda previously worked for state Sen. Shirley Kitchen and Mayor Nutter.
Wilson is a former spokeswoman for Fourth District City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., who represents Roxborough, Manayunk East Falls and parts of West Philadelphia.
Read the grand jury presentment below.