Ex-Sen. leader, 7 others charged in Pa. Turnpike probe

Ex-Sen. leader, 7 others charged in Pa. Turnpike probe

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A former state Senate leader and seven others have been charged in a “pay to play” case involving the Pennsylvania Turnpike, state prosecutors said Wednesday.

Attorney General Kathleen Kane said the eight are accused of criminal activity for their financial and political advantage. A grand jury heard evidence that cash, travel, entertainment and political contributions were secretly provided to public officials and political groups by turnpike vendors and their consultants, Kane’s office said in a news release.

The defendants include former state Senate Democratic Leader Bob Mellow, former turnpike chairman Mitchell Rubin and former turnpike chief executive Joe Brimmeier. Three former turnpike officials were also charged: George Hatalowich, 47, of Harrisburg, the former chief operating officer; Melvin Shelton, of Philadelphia; and Raymond Zajicek, of Tarpon Springs, Fla.

The other defendants are two turnpike vendors: Dennis Miller, of Harrisburg, and consultant Jeffrey Suzenski, of Pottstown.

The allegations include conspiracy, commercial bribery, bid rigging, theft and conflict of interest.

Kane said the grand jury found “substantial evidence” that Mellow directed an aide to help key contributors and supporters obtain turnpike contracts.

“The public has lost untold millions of dollars,” Kane said. “The greatest improper influence was exerted over the turnpike’s procurement process.”

The investigation began several years ago and has been conducted largely in secret.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has about 2,100 employees and an operating budget of about $315 million. It manages 552 miles of turnpike, and last year it served about 192 million vehicles.

Four turnpike commissioners are chosen by the governor, subject to state Senate confirmation. The fifth commissioner is the state transportation secretary.

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