HARRISBURG -- Former State Treasurer Rob McCord told jurors Friday that he secretly recorded at least two other people — including major campaign donor and Penn State trustee Al Lord — while cooperating with the FBI.
Facing cross-examination from the lawyer for another person he taped, a Chester County businessman accused of trying to bribe him, McCord said he also could be called to testify in a future case.
He didn't specify which one, but acknowledged setting up calls and letting agents guide his conversations after being confronted with evidence that he had tried to extort campaign donations.
“The FBI wanted you to incriminate people?” defense lawyer Reid Weingarten asked him.
"I was asked to use language … that I did not think that I would normally use,” McCord replied.
The exchange occurred as McCord took the stand for a third day in the federal trial of Richard Ireland, the businessman and former donor charged with trying to secretly funnel $500,000 in contributions to McCord’s failed, 2014 gubernatorial campaign in return for help landing state contracts.
McCord, a longtime Democrat from Montgomery County, abruptly resigned and pleaded guilty to extortion in 2015, about two months after agents first enlisted him as a cooperating witness.
The full list of people he taped, why, and when remain a mystery.
Pressed by the defense lawyer, McCord also said agents recorded his talks with a Northeastern Pennsylvania businessman, but prosecutors blocked him from naming the man during the testimony. Still, Mr. Weingarten dropped a few hints, saying the businessman was a former addict and alcoholic and was rumored to have ties to organized crime.
It wasn't clear when or why McCord taped Mr. Lord, a Republican, prolific political donor and former chief of lender Sallie Mae. Jurors at Mr. Ireland's trial have heard tapes from recordings secretly made by McCord in November and December of 2014.
McCord said both he and Mr. Lord had been supporters of embattled former Penn State President Graham Spanier, who was, and still is, fighting charges of covering up Jerry Sandusky’s sex abuse.
McCord testified that Lord had been was looking to support a Democrat in the gubernatorial primary who was in the best position to "shaft Tom Corbett,” the incumbent governor who had been attorney general when investigators built their case against Sandusky, Mr. Spanier, and two other Penn State administrators.
McCord recounted a conversation in which he said Mr.Lord proposed that McCord help him win appointment to Penn State’s board of trustees. McCord said he thought that would look bad, especially if Lord was a major campaign donor.
“I said ‘Don’t be an idiot, you have to run for that independently,' ” he testified.
It was unclear why Mr. Weingarten asked about Lord, who now lives in Florida. Lord also emerged as a key but uncharged player in the corruption trial of former U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa. He was granted immunity to testify about a $1 million loan he gave Mr. Fattah into his 2007 mayoral campaign.
Penn State alumni voted Mr. Lord onto the trustees board in spring 2014, and he has been among its most vocal members.
Reached Friday by phone, Mr. Lord said he was not aware that McCord had taped him, nor why he would have. He said he gave about $500,000 to support McCord’s campaign, but that the money was not to get a seat on Penn State’s board, which he got on his own.
“I was supporting him because I wanted a governor who would take a better look at what was going on at Penn State,” he said. “I wanted Corbett to lose, for sure, and he managed to do that without McCord’s help.”
He said that, in retrospect, his support of McCord was “a mistake,” that McCord’s political positions were not well thought out.
Mr. Lord also disputed McCord’s account that McCord called him an idiot. “He never talked to me that way,” Mr. Lord said.
With years of political experience, McCord testified that he knew how to talk to potential donors: Identify what they want, and then ask them for money.
His flaw, he conceded, was “I went too far, time and time again.”
That was what plunged him into legal trouble when the FBI was secretly listening into his telephone conversations in the spring of 2014, he said.
It remains unclear why the FBI began investigating McCord. But in his testimony Friday, McCord acknowledged for the first time that John Estey, the onetime chief of staff to Gov. Rendell who was caught in a 2011 FBI corruption sting, had “worn a wire on me.”
The Inquirer has reported that Mr. Estey, who has since pleaded guilty to wire fraud, had been secretly cooperating with federal investigators, possibly for years.
Throughout Friday’s questioning, McCord described the unsavory nature of political fundraising.
“You have to lie down in a sense with anybody in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to get things done, is my sense," he told the jury.
During one of his fundraising solicitations, McCord testified that he tried to raise campaign cash from a Northeastern Pennsylvania businessman who had interests in waste disposal. The businessman, whom he identified as Billy Rinaldi, said he would consider contributing but wanted a say in choosing the state’s new secretary for Environmental Protection, should McCord become governor.
Mr. Rinaldi could not be reached Friday. He did not respond to messages left at his business and a home phone number could not be found.
The trial before U.S. District Judge John Jones III is expected to continue into next week.
Staff writer Susan Snyder contributed to this report. Angela Couloumbis: email@example.com or 717-787-5934 or @AngelasInk. Karen Langley: firstname.lastname@example.org