Grand jury charges Pa. lawmaker in alleged fraud scheme

Posted: January 29, 2014

CALL IT cover-your-ass politics.

A Philadelphia grand jury yesterday charged rookie state Rep. J.P. Miranda with paying a "ghost employee" to cash state payroll checks. A portion of that money allegedly was funneled in cash to Miranda's sister, Michelle Wilson.

The alleged ghost employee, former Miranda campaign worker Timothy Duckett, kept a ledger of the payments and had Wilson sign it each time he gave her cash.

Duckett traded that ledger and his grand jury testimony to the District Attorney's Office for immunity from prosecution.

Miranda, 34, and Wilson, 28, face three felony counts: conflict of interest, perjury and criminal conspiracy. They are expected to surrender for arrest today.

District Attorney Seth Williams gave credit yesterday to Fox 29 and its reporter Jeff Cole, who last year broadcast a story about Duckett's employment.

Williams, while announcing the charges, said he thinks Duckett also committed a crime by serving as middleman for the alleged scheme. He said the only way to get a clear picture - and to "get to the bigger fish" - was to give Duckett immunity in the case.

The grand jury found that Miranda tried to hire his sister as his legislative chief of staff in December 2012, one month after he won a two-year term in the 197th District seat.

Wilson had just left a job as communications director for City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr.

The House Democratic Caucus rejected Wilson's employment as a violation of nepotism rules.

Duckett told the grand jury that Miranda then had him apply for a full-time job but told him he would not work 40 hours a week. Instead, he would occasionally drive Miranda to Harrisburg.

Duckett's initial salary was $26,000, but Miranda quickly secured for him a $10,000 raise.

The grand jury said Miranda and Wilson testified repeatedly that she only served as a volunteer in his legislative office.

Miranda's Harrisburg and Philadelphia offices were closed yesterday. He did not respond to requests for comment.

State Rep. Frank Dermody, the House minority leader, called the alleged conduct of Miranda and Wilson "very disappointing."

Dermody said he had not spoken to Miranda about the case.

Miranda, a Democrat, is up for re-election this year after winning in 2012 with 95 percent of the general election vote. He replaced former state Rep. Jewell Williams, who stepped down to run for sheriff in Philadelphia.

Miranda previously worked for City Council President Darrell Clarke, state Sen. Shirley Kitchen and Mayor Nutter.

At least two candidates already are running in the May 20 Democratic primary election for the 197th District seat.

Former state Rep. Ben Ramos and Leslie Acosta, a social worker who has worked for nonprofits and government agencies, said yesterday that they intend to run.

"I guess, in light of what happened, I would not be surprised if other people jump in," Ramos said about the criminal charges.


On Twitter: @ChrisBrennanDN

Blog: ph.ly/PhillyClout.com

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