Top Senate staffer keeps job despite role in Turnpike scandal - abc27 WHTM

Top Senate staffer keeps job despite role in Turnpike scandal

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"The Turnpike operates under a 'pay to play' system that is illegal and corrupt," Attorney General Kathleen Kane said during a press conference in which she accused eight men of wrongdoing.

She also had the photos of those men on a huge bulletin board. Anthony Lepore's photo was not among them. His face was not seen, but his name appeared in the accompanying presentment - frequently.

Lepore was chief of staff to former Senator Robert Mellow, who was charged in the case. Lepore admitted to prosecutors that he (Lepore) was the Senate's "middle man." According to the presentment, Lepore would tell Turnpike bosses which firms should be awarded lucrative contracts.

He was an important link in the chain of corruption, but Anthony Lepore was not charged. A footnote on page 10 of the presentment explains why: "Anthony Lepore testified pursuant to a grant of immunity."

Prominent midstate defense attorney William Costopoulos calls that an important tool for prosecutors.

"Sometimes you have to get to the inside of where the wrongdoing is taking place and you need an insider that was a player," Costopoulos said. "The only way he's gonna play is if you give him that grant."

It's clear from the presentment that Lepore played. He's also still getting paid. He makes $170,000 a year, which ranks him as the fifth-highest paid employee in the Senate.

"Our members have a comfort level working with him and a trust level," said Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny).

Costa replaced Mellow as caucus leader, but he's not replacing Lepore. Costa explained Tuesday that it's his belief that Lepore was merely following orders of higher-ups in his Turnpike wrongdoing.

"In our minds, and a number of our members feel this way, it was a master-servant type relationship where he was instructed to participate in things," Costa said.

Eric Epstein of Rock the Capital rejects that argument.

"People know right for wrong and I think it's naïve to assume that a Senate staffer was simply a pawn of a legislator," Epstein said.

Epstein says Lepore's involvement is proof that crime does pay.

"The reward for criminal behavior shouldn't be keeping your job," he said.

While prosecutors can't touch Lepore, his employer could.

"A grant of immunity, by definition, does not assure you, and cannot assure you, of continued employment," Costopoulos said. "They could fire him today if they wanted to."

Costa called Lepore a valuable employee, but when pressed if he'll continue to be chief of staff, Costa replied, "Yes, for now."

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