Pennsylvania politicians’ misdeeds give state a lousy reputation
The sentencing last week of former Democratic Pennsylvania Treasurer Robert M. McCord to 2½ years in prison is the latest in a string of convictions and guilty pleas by Pennsylvania officials during the past decade that gives the state a bad name.
And there’s more to come.
Former Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 23 as he faces up to 15 years in prison in a pay-to-play scheme to help finance his unsuccessful runs for governor and U.S. Senate in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
Former Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer has been found guilty on all charges for a similar scheme in that city. He took the stand to deny all charges, but the jury didn’t buy it. Spencer is scheduled to be sentenced late this year. Both Pawlowski and Vaughn are Democrats.
Calling himself “a flawed man who is trying to turn his life around,” McCord was apologetic to the people of Pennsylvania during his sentencing in front of U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones III on two counts of attempted extortion.
McCord could have gotten a much longer sentence, but prosecutors used him in a companion case to get information on accused wealthy financial adviser Richard Ireland, but a different jury exonerated Ireland.
The judge also ordered McCord to pay a $5,200 fine and court costs and told him to report on Oct. 29 to begin his sentence.
McCord was elected in 2008 and re-elected in 2012, but he resigned in 2015 before the end of his four-year term after being charged. At one point, because of his insider party connections and reputation, McCord was the favorite to win the 2014 gubernatorial race, but his campaign never got traction and was never adequately financed.
This allowed wealthy York businessman Tom Wolf to come along with a folksy and dynamic TV campaign, which captured voters’ imagination as he handily won the Democratic primary, then went on to knock off incumbent Republican Gov. Tom Corbett.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, McCord attempted to extort campaign contributions from a law firm and a property management company while he was running for governor by threatening economic harm to the potential donors if they failed to make sufficient campaign contributions.
These are essentially the same types of charges that the FBI made against Pawlowski and Spencer in Allentown and Reading.
Last month (August), former Reading School Board President Rebecca Acosta pleaded guilty in a federal corruption case to a count of conspiracy to commit bribery. Federal prosecutors accused her of sharing privileged board information with the Reading mayor so it could be passed along to a business consultant in return for campaign contributions. Several other charges against Acosta were dropped in exchange for her guilty plea. Acosta is scheduled to be sentenced in November.
During the past quarter-century, 68 Pennsylvania politicians holding state or federal office have been charged and/or sentenced for crimes committed while in office.
Here are some of the most recent well-known cases: State Rep. Joseph Brennan, D-Lehigh, was accused of assaulting his wife, then driving drunk from the scene of the incident. Brennan chose not to run for re-election in 2012. He had pleaded guilty to an earlier 2011 charge of drunken driving.
State Rep. William DeWeese, D-Greene, former House speaker, was convicted in 2012 of five of the six felony charges against him and was sentenced to 30 to 60 months in prison.
U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Philadelphia, was convicted on 23 counts of racketeering, fraud, bribery and corruption and sentenced in 2016 to 10 years in prison. Earlier this year, a federal court overturned Fattah’s bribery convictions.
Former Republican state Treasurer Barbara Hafer was indicted on federal charges of lying about taking more than $500,000 in consulting fees from a company that placed business with her state office. She was fined $50,000 and placed on probation during sentencing in 2017.
Former Democratic state Attorney General Kathleen Kane of Scranton was sentenced in 2016 to 10 to 23 months in prison for lying to a grand jury, conspiracy and obstruction of justice.
Former Democratic State Sen. Robert Mellow of Lackawanna County pleaded guilty in 2012 to conspiracy related to using his Senate staff to do political work and for filing a false tax return and sentenced to 16 months in federal prison. After serving his sentence, all charges were dismissed in 2014.
Former Republican state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin was found guilty in 2013 on theft of services, misapplication of government property and conspiracy to tamper with evidence and sentenced to three years of house arrest followed by two years of probation.
Former State Rep. Mike Veon, D-Beaver, was found guilty in 2010 on 14 counts related to using taxpayer-paid bonuses to reward state workers for campaign efforts on his behalf and for illegal fundraising charges. He was released on parole in 2015 after nearly five years in jail. A new trial was ordered in 2016.
Former Democratic Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams pleaded guilty in 2017 to one count of bribery and sentenced to five years in prison.
By Bruce Frassinelli | firstname.lastname@example.org