By Melissa Daniels | PA Independent
HARRISBURG —State investigators exposed a culture of corruption at the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission when they announced a slew of indictments against former officials last month. But they weren’t the first to allege wrong-doing at the agency.
New information shows the Turnpike Commission spent plenty of public money on court battles against whistle-blowers.
The Trib’s Brad Bumsted reports the Turnpike Commission spent nearly $700,000 on outside counsel to fight four different civil cases that alleged various forms of patronage, favoritism and corrupt actions.
In response to a Right to Know law request from the Tribune-Review, the turnpike acknowledged spending $699,250 on fees for outside lawyers in four civil cases. The lawsuits were filed before a statewide grand jury issued a scathing report last month outlining cronyism and a “pay-to-play” culture at the agency. It charged that contracts were rigged to benefit campaign contributors, and turnpike officials received gifts such as travel and costly dinners…
… Attorney General Kathleen Kane has charged eight people with crimes, including former Senate Democratic leader Bob Mellow of Scranton and former turnpike CEO Joe Brimmeier of Ross. When the charges were filed, State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan referenced the whistle-blowers at a news conference.
“There were numerous employees who tried to stand up for the right thing. … They were terminated. They received poor evaluations, and they were isolated,” Noonan said. “They knew something was wrong, but they could not do anything about it.”
Among the former employees who took legal action was Eileen Conroy, a former Pittsburgh councilwoman who took a commission job in 2007. Conroy had testified under subpoena before the grand jury investigating corruption in 2010, and was fired three weeks later.
PTC settled with Conroy after the grand jury investigation was released. Agency officials told Bumsted settlement details are still being worked out.
Contact Melissa Daniels at email@example.com