After grand jury charges, Pa. Turnpike panel to start its own probe

Mark Compton is CEO of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.
Mark Compton is CEO of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.
Posted: March 20, 2013

In the wake of a damning grand-jury probe and criminal charges against eight people, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission will investigate its contracts with lawyers, financiers, engineers, and others, turnpike chief Mark Compton said Monday.

Compton, who started work as the agency's chief executive officer last month, said he was "personally offended by the conduct" outlined in the grand jury report last week.

The 85-page report depicted a pervasive culture of money, political favoritism, and influence-peddling at the Turnpike Commission, with contractors selected on the basis of political contributions to state officials.

The grand jury charged eight people, including former Senate Democratic leader Robert J. Mellow, former Turnpike Commission Chairman Mitchell Rubin, and former turnpike CEO Joseph Brimmeier with crimes ranging from bribery to bid-rigging.

Compton, a former aide to Republican Gov. Tom Ridge and U.S. Rep. William Clinger (R., Pa.) and a recent deputy secretary of the state Department of Transportation, said turnpike users and employees "deserve better."

Compton said he had ordered "a thorough review of every professional-services contract that was cited in the attorney general's presentment" and all current contracts that were awarded during the four years of the grand jury investigation.

He also said he had ordered that a memo be sent to "each of our professional-service providers," such as lawyers, engineers, and bond underwriters, detailing the turnpike's code of conduct and professional-services procurement policy, adopted in 2012.

Compton said he would ensure that "every employee understands that they are encouraged to come forward if they witness inappropriate conduct, and will be supported for doing so."

Compton said the steps "signify a clean break from any past offenses."

Even so, the Turnpike Commission continues to fight lawsuits from former employees who contend they were fired for trying to expose corruption at the agency. When state Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced the charges last week, she and Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan said turnpike whistle-blowers had suffered for their actions.

And the five turnpike commissioners remain unchanged.

One of them, former state Senate Majority Leader J. William Lincoln, told the grand jury under a grant of immunity from prosecution that he accepted (and failed to report) gifts from contractors, including thousands of dollars in gift certificates for the luxury Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, from an engineering firm, Sucevic, Piccolomini & Kuchar Engineering Inc. of Uniontown.

Lincoln was also identified by the grand jury as a commissioner, along with former Commissioner Rubin, who solicited campaign contributions for Ed Rendell's gubernatorial campaigns from engineering firms that regularly got work from the turnpike.

Lincoln could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.


Contact Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or pnussbaum@phillynews.com

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