Trial date set in Pennsylvania Turnpike 'pay to play' case

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | Friday, January 17, 2014

A former state senator, turnpike commissioner and other high-ranking officials with the Pennsylvania Turnpike will stand trial this summer in a case that alleges bid-rigging, personal gain and other illegal activities.

A Harrisburg judge set a trial date of Aug. 1 for the accused – former state Sen. Robert Mellow; former Pennsylvania Turnpike Commissioner Mitchell Rubin; former turnpike CEO Joseph Brimmeier; former turnpike operations officer George Hatalowich; and two contract vendors, Dennis Miller and Jeffrey Suzenski. Two other turnpike employees are being tried separately.

A grand jury indicted the eight men in March 2013 on allegations of “pay to play” and political cronyism that Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane referred to as “blatant.”

Prosecutors allege that Mellow used his tenure as Democratic floor speaker to solicit political contributions in exchange for securing turnpike work contracts.

Rubin, elected chairman of the turnpike in 2003, faces three counts of bid-rigging and six other counts including commercial bribery.

Brimmeier, who was CEO of the turnpike from 2003 through 2010, was charged with nine counts in total including bid-rigging and restricted activities.

Rubin once worked for former state Sen. Vincent Fumo, who was sentenced to 55 months in prison in 2009 for corruption. Rubin and his wife, Ruth Arnao, faced separate charges connected to the Fumo trial for “no work” contracts. Rubin took leave in 2006 and was fired by then-Gov. Ed Rendell.

The current turnpike administration responded to the case by announcing plans to reform operations and oversight. Turnpike officials announced in recent days that they have hired a former FBI investigator to oversee the reforms.

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