More Bad News for Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission

Corruption at the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is a well-known and unfortunate reality, and the scandals continue to mount. Already this year we’ve seen the conviction of former State Senator Vincent Fumo (the Turnpike’s leading legislative patron during his tenure in office) and Ruth Arnao (wife of fired PTC chair Mitchell Rubin) on a combined 182 counts in a federal corruption case. Gov. Ed Rendell subsequently canned Rubin, who is now the target of a federal corruption investigation. Last week former PTC staffer Michael Palermo pleaded guilty to receiving $290,000 in state funds through bogus work contracts arranged with Fumo. And this summer a state grand jury began to investigate corruption at the Turnpike. As if that all wasn’t bad enough, Peter Samuel at reports today in two separate posts (here and here) that the FBI showed up unannounced at the PTC offices last week, confiscating hard drives and documents as part of a criminal investigation:

A number of Pennsylvania Turnpike officers have lost computer hard drives to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Last Thursday morning Oct 22, FBI officers showed up unexpectedly at the Turnpike offices in Harrisburg and apparently presented their authority (subpoena) to impound, examine and confiscate equipment and records as part of a criminal investigation. The agents returned and spent most of Friday at the Turnpike also. Nothing has been announced by either the FBI or the Turnpike.

Hypothetically speaking, if Abertis’ $12.8 billion bid for a Turnpike lease was still on the table today, would the PTC still have the political clout to convince a majority of legislators to reject it? Rather than put the PTC out of business through a Turnpike lease (as I’ve argued should have been done), somehow a majority of legislators convinced themselves that a better option was to expand the PTC’s power and role in state transportation funding. Smart move, eh?

For all state senators and reps who stood in the way of the lease I have one simple questionââ?¬â?how’s that decision working out for you?

For the USDOT folks currently evaluating the PTC’s proposal to toll I-80ââ?¬â?a critical lynchpin of the deal enshrining PTC’s continued transportation monopoly, which was already rejected twice before by the Bush-era USDOTââ?¬â?I’d simply ask, can you ignore this? The Obama administration could certainly end up with no small degree of egg on its face if one agency (USDOT) were to approve the PTC’s I-80 tolling plan while another agency (FBI) was investigating the PTC for corruption.

UPDATE: In fairness, PTC executive director Joseph Brimmeier is denying that an FBI raid ever occurred. Peter Samuel responded with a source on the record claiming that it did indeed occur:

Bob Dietz, 55 of Lancaster PA, construction supervisor for a Turnpike widening project near Valley Forge says we can quote him as saying the FBI were at the Turnpike’s head offices in Harrisburg Thursday afternoon and that they went away with computers and other materials.

Dietz says he has been providing the FBI with details of corruption in connection with a $170m six lane widening in the Valley Forge area. The job was originally bid at $90m, Dietz says. (We’re checking this out – editor)

So it’s “he said-she said” at this point. More to come as this story develops.

UPDATE 2: Nathan Benfield at the Commonwealth Foundation offers a similar take (with a dose of sarcasm) here:

But hey, it’s not your father’s Turnpike Commission (despite the number of patronage hires). Rampant corruption is no reason not to give the Turnpike Commission greater authority and control over I-80.

UPDATE 3: In my original post, I mistakenly wrote that Mitchell Rubin was “up on federal corruption charges,” when in fact he is currently the target of a federal corruption investigation. I corrected this in the text above. My apologies for this error on my part, and many thanks to the reader who pointed it out.

Leonard Gilroy is Senior Managing Director of the Pension Integrity Project at Reason Foundation, a nonprofit think tank advancing free minds and free markets. The Pension Integrity Project assists policymakers and other stakeholders in designing, analyzing and implementing public sector pension reforms.

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