HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania — A prosecution of "pay-to-play" allegations within the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission ended quietly Thursday when two former high-ranking officials pleaded guilty and were sentenced to five years of probation.
Former chief executive Joe Brimmeier and former chief operating officer George Hatalowich each pleaded guilty to a single count of conflict of interest. Along with probation, they were fined $2,500 each and ordered to perform community service.
Brimmeier admitted to taking "free hospitality" from an engineering firm and campaign contributions for former Gov. Ed Rendell, while making decisions to award contracts to the firm.
Hatalowich's plea involved taking hospitality and gifts from a different engineering firm while influencing contracts that that firm received.
Neither man said much during the brief plea hearing in Dauphin County Common Pleas Court in Harrisburg.
Afterward, a spokesman for the attorney general's office described the pleas as a reasonable way to resolve the cases.
"Being a convicted felon is a badge they will have to wear," said the spokesman, J.J. Abbott.
He said it will be up to the state pension agency to determine if their convictions fit the standards for forfeiture under state law.
Former turnpike chairman Mitch Rubin pleaded guilty last week to commercial bribery and received a similar sentence, and the sole remaining count against former state Sen. Bob Mellow was dropped last month after the judge threw out all his other charges.
Two other former turnpike employees were sentenced to probation after pleading guilty earlier this year to charges that included theft and unauthorized use of a state vehicle.
Two other defendants, both former turnpike vendors, were allowed to enter a diversion program, and their charges are expected to be dropped after they successfully complete two years of probation.
The low-key hearing to resolve the case of the final two defendants was a contrast with what occurred in March 2013, when the charges were announced with great fanfare.
At that time, Attorney General Kathleen Kane said a four-year investigation had involved hundreds of witnesses as state prosecutors dug into what was described as a long-running pay-to-play scheme, with vendors providing gifts and political contributions as they sought state contracts.
"Evidence of secret gifts of cash, travel and entertainment and the payment of substantial political contributions to public officials and political organizations by private turnpike vendors and their consultants demonstrates that the turnpike operates under a pay-to-play system that is illegal and corrupt," Kane said.
At that time, prosecutors said vendors had spent lavishly, providing trips to Paris and Vienna, baseball tickets, golf outings and restaurant meals. The plea deal announced Thursday did not specify the hospitality the two men received, nor did prosecutors say how much the firm contributed to Rendell's campaign.
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