(268) Sunday, May 15, 2016 – Are the Federal apprehensions of two high-ranking state government individuals linked. Both are Democrats and this is the question many Harrisburg operatives ask.
Two years ago the political world was shocked when the U.S. Attorney’s office for Middle Pennsylvania announced the indictment of former state Treasurer Rob McCord. He resigned his post and pleaded guilty to federal extortion counts.
Last week, John Estey, former chief of staff to ex-Governor Ed Rendell, pled guilty to a single count of wire fraud stemming from an FBI sting on lobbying practices.
Observers are convinced the two cases are related but have different opinions on how and where. In the bizarre world of governmental corruption that is Pennsylvania state government, these events even raise suspicion that the crime-fighting apparatus itself favors one party.
And despite the timing – McCord in 2014, Estey last week – which arrest fueled the other is still a conjecture.
Both have pled guilty, but allocution has been sparse or a non-event. As a result, details remain sketchy at best. While McCord’s sentencing has been pending 16 months, the Philadelphia Inquirer said this week that Estey was caught in an FBI sting in 2011. Charges against Estey needed to be filed this week to avoid conflict with statutes of limitations.
Both the Inquirer and Philly Daily News reported “McCord was a federal cooperator,” and that the FBI “taped more than 2,000 of his phone conversations.”
The FBI snagged Estey after going to the trouble of setting up a fictitious company that needed assistance from people holding positions of power and influence in Pennsylvania government. According to court filings, the FBI set up its phony business “to investigate allegations of public corruption.”
An FBI agent posing as John Miles, an executive for the phony out-of-state company, hired “Harrisburg lobbying firm Long Nyquist & Associates” to participate in the sting. Long Nyquist is run by two former aides to Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, a Republican.
Scarnati himself received $5,000 from Miles and $17,500 from Long Nyquist in campaign contributions according to the PoliticsPA blog site. The fake company’s goal was to get legislation requiring certification for recyclers looking to enter the textbook disposal industry.
McCord was on track to be governor until his campaign for that office imploded in 2014. He had been handily re-elected state treasurer in 2012 and when the gubernatorial primary began two years later McCord was the favorite by all the party hierarchy. No evidence exists that links McCord’s abominable campaign and his problems with the Feds.
When indicted, Estey was fired from an executive position with the Hershey Trusts that reportedly netted him almost $800,000 annually. Hershey, the world’s largest non-profit charity, was the subject of a long time state investigation for corruption until Attorney General Kathleen Kane shut the probe down in 2013.
Bottom Line: Is ex-Governor Rendell the target of these high-profile probes? Would such a project be an indication of a rift between Obama and older line Democrats? Could these episodes just be an example of a small section of a U.S. Attorney’s staff or rogue FBI agents straying off the reservation?
Crime fighters had another shot at Rendell a few years back. Joe Brimmeir, CEO of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, was arrested in February, 2013 in a pay-for-play scheme involving the road agency. In November, 2014 he pled guilty.
If Estey was Rendell’s closest associate while Governor, Brimmeir certainly enjoyed that relationship as campaign chief in Rendell’s quest for the office. Brimmeir’s sentencing did not include jail time, however there is no indication that he ever provided evidence against any other person involving government corruption.