U.S. Rep. Brady stands up for longtime friend facing Turnpike panel theft charges

Vehicles approach toll booths on the Pa. Turnpike. Several people were charged in a broad scheme involving the Turnpike Commission.
Vehicles approach toll booths on the Pa. Turnpike. Several people were charged in a broad scheme involving the Turnpike Commission. (AP.)
Posted: March 16, 2013

In the wake of a grand jury report depicting a Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission awash in bribes and bid-rigging, U.S. Rep. Bob Brady is vouching for his man.

His man who worked at the turnpike, that is.

Brady (D., Pa.) said Thursday that "one of the most honorable people I know" is Melvin Shelton, his longtime friend and political ally, who now faces theft charges for alleged personal use of a turnpike car and falsifying of work hours.

"He told me he did nothing wrong, and I believe him," Brady told The Inquirer. "He's my friend and I'm going to stand by him."

The comments from Brady, who was a turnpike commissioner from 1991 until his election to Congress in 1998, came as others in both parties said the grand jury report signaled a need for change at the turnpike. State Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware) called it "a sad day" for Pennsylvania.

Shelton was one of eight current and former turnpike officials and contractors charged. Brady, the city's Democratic Party chairman, expressed concern over how the charges might affect Shelton, who turns 82 next week.

"He's a very upstanding member of the community," Brady said. "He's loyal and upstanding."

Efforts to reach Shelton for comment were unsuccessful. He was arraigned Thursday and freed on $100,000 unsecured bond.

Shelton and Brady got to know one another in the mid-1980s in the city's Overbrook section, where Brady for years has been 34th Ward Democratic leader and Shelton the ward chairman.

In 1988 he was hired by the Turnpike Authority as assistant deputy executive director of fare collection. He listed Brady as the first reference on his job application, according to the grand jury, which identified Brady only as "Congressman #1."

Shelton quit in 1998 but was rehired in 2004 - again listing Brady as a reference. Shelton's job title: "assistant director of projects, east." In 2007, the report said, his salary was raised to $94,500.

He was fired in 2010 after an inspector general's investigation found that he falsified his work hours and used a Chevrolet Tahoe assigned to him by the turnpike to drive to his homes in Philadelphia and Virginia. According to the grand jury, Brady campaign signs and other political materials were found in the car and in Shelton's turnpike office after his firing.

Shelton's rise to a managerial position also raised red flags among turnpike staffers, the report noted - including Brady's son, Robert F. Brady, then an assistant director of operations and projects at the turnpike, who was told to split his job with Shelton.

"It never sat well," the younger Brady told the grand jury. "He always complained he wasn't making enough."

Other employees testified that Shelton did no work and was often absent. He was known to boast of ties to Brady and other politicians; "if a Democrat was terminated from the turnpike, Shelton would try to get them re-hired," the report said.

After the report was issued Wednesday, turnpike CEO Mark P. Compton said in a statement that steps had been taken in the last two years to "reform and modernize" the agency, such as hiring a chief compliance officer who is a former FBI agent and creating a more transparent process for awarding contracts.

Pileggi, noting that the grand jury "found what appear to have been longstanding practices," vowed to work with other lawmakers and Gov. Corbett to determine "what legislation would prevent this from ever happening again."

State Rep. Mike Vereb (R., Montgomery) said he might reintroduce a 2008 bill to eliminate the commission and transfer its operations to the Department of Transportation. Rep. Mike McGeehan of Philadelphia, the ranking Democrat on the Transportation Committee, said he opposed such a move but was open to legislation, such as requiring contract rotations and tougher screening of turnpike vendors.

"We need to better vet contractors," he said. "The core of the report lends itself to some discussions about remedies to cure that."

One change at the turnpike was noted by the grand jury: it said officials "recently eliminated Shelton's position entirely because the commission determined that it was superfluous and unnecessary."

Contact Allison Steele at 610-313-8113 or asteele@phillynews.com

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