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Defendants arraigned in Pa. Turnpike corruption case - abc27 WHTM

Defendants arraigned in Pa. Turnpike corruption case

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Attorney General Kathleen Kane announces charges against eight men accused in a "pay to play" case involving the Turnpike. Attorney General Kathleen Kane announces charges against eight men accused in a "pay to play" case involving the Turnpike.
Former Turnpike Commissioner Mitchell Rubin leaves a district judge's office after his arraignment Wednesday. Former Turnpike Commissioner Mitchell Rubin leaves a district judge's office after his arraignment Wednesday.
Left to right, first row: Robert Mellow, Mitchell Rubin, Joseph Brimmeier and George Hatalowich. Second row: Melvin Shelton, Raymond Zajicek, Dennis Miller and Jeffrey Suzenski. Left to right, first row: Robert Mellow, Mitchell Rubin, Joseph Brimmeier and George Hatalowich. Second row: Melvin Shelton, Raymond Zajicek, Dennis Miller and Jeffrey Suzenski.
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  • AG charges 8 in Pa. Turnpike corruption probe

    AG charges 8 in Pa. Turnpike corruption probe

    Wednesday, March 13 2013 1:44 PM EDT2013-03-13 17:44:41 GMT
    Pennsylvania prosecutors have announced criminal charges against a former Senate leader and three former state officials in a "pay to play" case involving the Pennsylvania Turnpike.More >>
    Pennsylvania prosecutors have announced criminal charges against a former Senate leader and three former state officials in a "pay to play" case involving the Pennsylvania Turnpike.More >>
HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) -

Customers must pay tolls to drive the Pennsylvania Turnpike, but companies that wanted to do business with the Turnpike Commission had to pony up campaign contributions and gifts to get the work, according to Attorney General Kathleen Kane.

In return for the thousands of dollars, Kane said companies would get millions of dollars worth of Turnpike work.

Kane charged eight men with a variety of theft, bribery, corruption, bid-rigging and conspiracy charges in what she called a "pay to play culture" at the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Most notable among the charged are former Democratic state senator Bob Mellow - already serving time at a federal prison in South Carolina on corruption charges - former Turnpike Commissioner Mitchell Rubin and former Turnpike CEO Joseph Brimmeier.

Two Harrisburg men, George Hatalowich and Dennis Miller, were also charged and were among four arraigned today in Lower Paxton Township by District Judge Bill Wenner.

Rounding out the accused are former Turnpike employees Melvin Shelton of Philadelphia and Raymond Zajickek of Tarpon Springs, Florida. Consultant Jeffrey Suzenski of Pottstown is also charged.

The charges followed a four-year grand jury investigation that was wrapped up before Kane took office. She got to make the public announcement Wednesday in a Capitol press conference.

"Their criminal acts resulted in the misdirection, misuse and theft of millions of dollars of public money," Kane said.

State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan was also at the press conference. He called the corruption blatant and widespread.

ABC27 asked if companies giving campaign contributions and gifts was just the cost of doing business with the Turnpike. Noonan was emphatic in his answer.

"Yes. How 'bout that? Yes," he said.

But some at the Capitol wonder why, if corruption was so rampant and the Turnpike was a patronage machine for both parties in the Senate, is only one former, jailed senator charged?

In the grand jury presentment, both former senator Vince Fumo and former governor Ed Rendell are alluded to by number, but not named and not charged. Fumo is said to have exerted influence over the Turnpike and its decisions. Both Rendell and Fumo appear to have benefited from those fundraisers.

Kane said if they had the evidence on others, they would've brought charges. But they didn't, so Mellow is the only elected official ensnared in the case.

"He's the only one that there was a direct link and direct evidence that he had actually made the calls himself and he had direct influence over the Turnpike," Kane said.

"It's not fair for us to talk about people who aren't charged in the presentment, so I'm not going to," said Noonan. "But you're free to read through it because I think you can draw conclusions about the way things were done."

In a statement, the Turnpike's new Chief Operating Officer, Mark Compton, said he's cleaning things up and business as usual is no longer accepted.

"Since my arrival, what I can tell you is the culture of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is not what's portrayed in the media reports," Compton said.

The accused declined comment during their arraignments outside Harrisburg, but Mark Sheppard, Miller's attorney, did speak.

"This is only one side of the story," Sheppard said. "As I said, we'll do our talking in the courtroom."

No court dates have been set yet.

Accusations of wrongdoing at the Turnpike was shocking to no one. It's been rumored for years. But charges of corruption are getting old around the Capitol.

"We try so hard to want people to have faith in government," said Senator Pat Vance, R-Cumberland. "If I were out there looking, I'd be saying, 'Why should I?'"

"We're all wondering, 'when does it end?'," said Senator John Wozniak, D-Clearfield. "When can we turn the page? We know what the public thinks of us and we're not all like that and it demoralizes us, too."

One Republican senator was frustrated at Governor Tom Corbett for not filing the charges before Kane took office. This investigation was wrapped up months ago, but now the Democratic attorney general will get the credit and statewide headlines without having done the work.

Kane said the investigation of the Turnpike is ongoing.

Mellow sits in federal prison. He now faces state charges. But his oil portrait still hangs in the Senate's main hallway. He smiles down at passersby.

"I notice that from time to time," said Vance. "That's not a very good example to have."

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