HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania — Taxpayers paid nearly $300,000 for the legal fees of former officials convicted last year amid the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission corruption scandal, records show.
The state paid legal fees for four defendants until they were charged with crimes in 2013, turnpike spokesman Carl DeFebo Jr. told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (http://bit.ly/1Rx7Tpn ).
"As soon as they were named in the (grand jury) presentment, the turnpike no longer paid their legal fees," DeFebo said.
Prosecutors alleged the officials were involved in a pay-to-play scheme where campaign contributions flowed to favored officials in return for contracts. Vendors doled out gifts including sports tickets, limo rides, travel and meals to officials, prosecutors said.
Eric Epstein, co-founder Rock the Capital, a government reform group, said the fees represent a "double crime," in which some defendants pleaded guilty while taxpayers were paying their fees
"Only in Pennsylvania can you mug the taxpayers and charge them legal fees," Epstein said.
Former turnpike CEO Joe Brimmeier pleaded guilty to felony conflict of interest in November and was sentenced to five years of probation. Taxpayers paid a Philadelphia law firm more than $127,000 for Brimmeier's legal representation.
George Hatalowich, the turnpike's former chief operating officer, pleaded guilty to conflict of interest. His taxpayer-paid legal fees were $158,000 to another Philadelphia law firm.
Taxpayers also paid nearly $10,000 in legal fees for two others who pleaded guilty in the scandal.
Information from: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, http://pghtrib.com