Former Pa. senator J. William Lincoln resigns Pennsylvania Turnpike commission
March 23, 2013 4:00 AM
By James O'Toole Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In the backwash of a damning grand jury report on the operations of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, former state Sen. J. William Lincoln resigned Friday as a member of its board of commissioners.
While he was not charged, Mr. Lincoln's name and testimony were cited in the recent grand jury presentment that depicted a corrupt culture of widespread bid-rigging and pressure on the turnpike's vendors and contractors for quid pro quo political contributions. The report resulted in charges against eight figures surrounding the turnpike, including another former state senator, Robert Mellow, and Joseph Brimmeier, the toll road's former executive director, who was until the day before he was indicted, a member of the board of the Allegheny County Port Authority.
The grand jury noted that Mr. Lincoln, 72, testified under a grant of immunity.
At one point in its extensive report, the grand jury described an incident in which one vendor gave $6,100 in gift certificates to Mr. Lincoln and George Hatalowich, a turnpike official who was charged in the case. The jurors state that, "Commissioner J. William Lincoln testified before the grand jury pursuant to a grant of immunity. Commissioner Lincoln admitted that he received the gift certificates and failed to report them on his annual Statement of Financial Interests."
At another point, a witness described how cards with the names of Mr. Lincoln and other turnpike officials were included in campaign solicitations sent to executives of firms seeking contracts.
In his resignation letter to Gov. Tom Corbett, the former state senate Democratic leader said, "Given the additional personal stress over the events of the past two weeks, and my already difficult battle with maintaining my health, I am no longer able to perform the duties required of a member of the commission. It is on this note that I end my 40-year career in public service to the people of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania."
In a statement, the commission chairman, William K. Lieberman, said, "We respect Sen. Lincoln's decision to resign; given the circumstances, he made the right choice."
Mr. Lincoln, of Connellsville, represented a Uniontown-based district from 1979 to 1994. He served in the state House from 1973 to 1978. He was succeeded as Democratic leader in the Senate by Mr. Mellow, who was indicted in the cash-for-contracts scheme.
In the conclusion of its report the grand jury found that the turnpike commission had been "corrupted by improper political influence from its very own officials, as well as from powerful political officials in state government.
"In short," it continued, "secret gifts of cash, travel and entertainment, and the payment of substantial political contributions to designated public officials, and political organizations, by private vendors and their consultants who have sought and been rewarded with multimillion-dollar Turnpike contracts, have tainted and thoroughly corrupted the system."
In his resignation letter, Mr. Lincoln said that, "I am proud of my time as a commissioner and believe that lasting improvements made to the turnpike network in Western Pennsylvania and on the Mon Fayette Expressway and the Southern Beltway will prove to be invaluable to the future economic health of the region."
Anthony Lepore, a Senate Democratic aide, also testified before the grand jury under a grant of immunity and described the workings of the toll road's pay-to-play operations. He remains on the payroll of the Democratic caucus.
"Tony continues to work with us," said state Sen. Jay Costa, the minority leader. "We view his role as a little different than the role of some of the other people mentioned."
He noted that Mr. Lepore's dealings with the turnpike involved conveying the instructions of his superior -- he was the former chief of staff for Mr. Mellow -- rather than orchestrating any of the activities that drew the turnpike prosecution.