Case against State Rep. Miranda and sister to proceed

State Rep. Jose "J.P." Miranda won election with 95 pct.
State Rep. Jose "J.P." Miranda won election with 95 pct.
Posted: March 02, 2014

PHILADELPHIA In 2012, Democrat Jose "J.P." Miranda won 95 percent of the vote in an election that landed him a seat in the state House.

Little more than a year later, he was arrested, along with his sister, on corruption charges.

On Friday, in a marathon preliminary hearing that pitted the siblings against several former legislative assistants, Miranda's fall from grace continued. Municipal Court Judge David C. Shuter ruled that the case against Miranda and Michelle Wilson should proceed to trial.

Miranda and Wilson were charged with conflict of interest, perjury, and criminal conspiracy in January and accused of orchestrating a scheme to pay a "ghost employee" to funnel cash to Wilson.

Shuter said Friday that prosecutors had presented enough evidence for him to uphold the three felony charges.

Outside the courtroom, Miranda's lawyer, A. Charles Peruto Jr., denounced the case as a "vindictive prosecution." He accused prosecutors of targeting Miranda because the legislator had been dating the same woman as District Attorney Seth Williams.

"This is one way to eliminate your competition," Peruto said.

He declined to name the woman, but said he planned to file a motion to dismiss, claiming selective prosecution.

Tasha Jamerson, a spokeswoman for Williams, called Peruto's allegation "ludicrous."

"They're ridiculous and the evidence speaks for itself," she said.

The case against Miranda began in May, when Fox29 broadcast a segment showing Timothy Duckett, a former driver and legislative assistant for Miranda, at his garage on nine work days. Duckett, the alleged ghost employee, was supposed to be working 9 to 5 in Miranda's office. He initially was paid $26,000 annually, later raised to $36,000.

"I did whatever J.P. asked me to do," Duckett testified Friday.

On several occasions, he said, Miranda told him to transfer part of his paycheck to Wilson. Duckett recorded those cash payments in a ledger, and later traded that ledger and his testimony in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

The payments totaled $1,700 and were made during a two-month period last year, said Assistant District Attorneys E. Marc Costanzo and Frank G. Fina, who are prosecuting.

Miranda, with his hands folded neatly on the table in front of him, stared stone-faced at Duckett as his former assistant, driver, and friend provided testimony that prosecutors say will be crucial in working toward a conviction.

Another witness, April Rissinger of the Democratic caucus, testified that she told Miranda that nepotism laws prevented him from hiring his sister. Nonetheless, Duane Lilley, Miranda's chief of staff, said Wilson was often in the office, serving as an important aide.

Peruto argued that dozens of state legislators have relatives serving on their staffs. He said Miranda had been unfairly singled out.

The case against Miranda is important for Williams, a Democrat who has vowed to take on corruption. It marks the first Philadelphia corruption case brought by city prosecutors in two decades.

Williams' predecessor, Lynne M. Abraham, avoided political corruption cases, referring them to state or federal prosecutors.

Miranda intends to run for reelection this year, Peruto said.


szweifler@philly.com

215-854-2619 @szweifler


 

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