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MERCER COUNTY



Published: Sun, November 4, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



MERCER COUNTY

Shipleyscandalshocklingers

Shipley's former political bosses expressed betrayal at revelations that led to his resignation.

By HAROLD GWIN

VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU

MERCER, Pa. -- State Sen. Robert Robbins and his wife, Cindy, never had any children, but Robbins said he considered Brian Shipley to be almost like a son.

"Brian worked in the [Republican] party since he was probably 14 or 15 years old," said Robbins, R-50th.

He later worked as a legislative aide to Robbins before running successfully for Mercer County commissioner in 1999.

"He was very close. He worked with us for a long time," Robbins said.

The revelations Oct. 26 that Shipley had used his county cellular telephone for escort services and massage parlors came as a shock, Robbins said. Shipley's use of a county credit card had earlier been questioned by the county controller.

Shipley had professed his innocence until the phone misuse came to light, the senator said, adding he never saw this coming.

"I never heard him say as much as an off-color word or joke," Robbins said, adding that he feels betrayed.

Shipley, 30, of Greenville, resigned Oct. 29, saying only that mistakes he had made in his personal life made it impossible for him to perform his duties as a commissioner.

Party chief: Dr. David King, a former state representative who succeeded Shipley as chairman of the Mercer County Republican Committee when Shipley resigned to run for county commissioner two years ago, had insisted Shipley resign.

Shipley had worked as an intern in King's legislative office for a summer about 10 years ago, and King was a strong supporter of Shipley's bids for public office.

"I thought he deserved our support. He was a good, hard-working young man," King recalled, adding, "We never saw this dark side." "He lied to me," King said, explaining Shipley had denied any abuse of his position.

King, who had openly supported Shipley in the credit-card issue, said he felt betrayed.

"That's why I called for his resignation," he said, adding that he relayed that message directly to Shipley the night before he announced his resignation.

Rep. English: Shipley also worked for U.S. Rep. Phil English of Erie, R-21st, for two years, running his Mercer County district office.

There were never any questions about him or his behavior, English said.

"I had no hint that these problems existed. It breaks my heart," he said, adding, "I feel very much for his family."

English said Shipley did the right thing by stepping down.

"I'm disappointed," he said, noting that Shipley had a lot of political potential.

If there was a betrayal, it's "a case of Brian betraying himself," the congressman said. "It's been a very long, sad episode."

What happened: Questions surrounding Shipley's possible abuse of a county credit card and cell phone first surfaced in August when county controller Dennis Songer questioned Shipley's use of a county credit card.

Shipley maintained the card was his and the county never had to pay any bills incurred with it, but Songer said the card also bore the county's name and the county bore ultimate responsibility for paying any costs billed to it.

It was Songer's office that also discovered the cell phone misuse. Songer said Shipley's outgoing calls from his office telephone also were checked but that there didn't appear to be any calls to escort services or massage parlors in the Pittsburgh area or elsewhere from that line.

Such calls would have been toll calls from the office phone and would have immediately drawn attention, Songer said, noting that the cell phone calls were free and weren't checked until his office began looking at Shipley's credit card records.

Shipley had also come under criticism for his browsing of X-rated Web sites on his office computer.

Robbins said he backed Shipley on the credit-card issue, pointing out there was some legitimate debate over the policy regarding the use of such cards.

But when the cell phone records were made public, Robbins said he knew he had been lied to.

Told to resign: "It made it quite obvious," he said, adding that he, his wife and Ginny Steese-Richardson, Mercer County's treasurer who had just signed on as chairman of Shipley's fund-raising committee, jointly told Shipley he would have to resign as commissioner.

"It was obvious he was deceiving all of us," Robbins said.

The senator wasn't the only one calling for Shipley to step down.

His fellow commissioners, Republican Gene Brenneman and Democrat Olivia Lazor, had delivered an ultimatum to Shipley, telling him to resign. They formally accepted his resignation last week.

gwin@vindy.com




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