State rep from Chester faces ethics probe

Charismatic, well-dressed and a nearly unbeatable politician, Thaddeus Kirkland has hired numerous relatives, including his daughter, Tyra Starr. (Photos: Chester Spirit)
Charismatic, well-dressed and a nearly unbeatable politician, Thaddeus Kirkland has hired numerous relatives, including his daughter, Tyra Starr. (Photos: Chester Spirit)
Posted: February 14, 2013

THADDEUS KIRKLAND, a longtime Democratic state representative and fiery preacher from Chester, is under investigation by the state Ethics Commission, apparently in connection with a tangled web of money and potential conflicts of interest that he helped weave from Harrisburg.

The Daily News reported in November that since 1998, about $800,000 in state grants has gone to organizations close to Kirkland's family - including the Baptist church where he is pastor, an annual cultural festival at which his daughter has been paid to sing and an arts center where his wife is president and his son-in-law was executive director.

Jay Schiliro, Kirkland's Republican challenger in last year's election, had publicly raised some of those issues. Kirkland responded by calling a news conference at his church and denouncing Schiliro from the altar as a "demonic opponent."

State investigators, however, have taken an interest. Schiliro said Tuesday that an Ethics Commission investigator visited him last month and asked him about Kirkland. A spokeswoman for Delaware County District Attorney John Whelan said the office's special-investigation unit had referred the case to the commission.

"In my opinion, he's a crook and shouldn't be in office," said Schiliro, the mayor of Marcus Hook. "I feel if he was anyone else he'd be in jail."

Some of the organizations connected to Kirkland's family have also received money from his campaign committee, which has paid $100,000 to Kirkland himself since 2000 and an additional $84,000 in which the recipient is listed only as "cash."

Robert Caruso, acting executive director of the Ethics Commission, said he could not confirm or deny whether his office is investigating Kirkland.

Ethics Commission probes can lead to serious criminal charges. Pennsylvania's Ethics Act forbids public officials from using their positions to privately benefit themselves, their immediate families or businesses with which they are associated.

In November, Kirkland was re-elected to an 11th term, 80 percent to 20 percent. He did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment, but he has previously said that none of the state grants presented a conflict and that the campaign payments to himself were simply reimbursements.

Kirkland told the Daily News in November that he welcomes an investigation and dismissed questions about his ethics after serving 10 terms in Harrisburg.

"I've been there 20 years," he said. "I think I know a little bit about ethics."


On Twitter: @wbender99

Blog: philly.com/DailyDelco

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