Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission Secretary-Treasurer J. William Lincoln resigned from the five-member panel in the aftermath of a grand jury report that tied Lincoln and the commission to a pay-to-play scheme.
According to the report, Lincoln testified under immunity about the alleged scheme and also acknowledged receiving $3,100 in gift certificates from an engineering firm that worked with the Turnpike.
Attorney General Kathleen Kane on March 13 announced criminal charges against eight former commission officials, political leaders and businessmen.
The allegations included improper steering of bond underwriting.
Lincoln, 72, a former state Senate majority leader from Connellsville, near Pittsburgh, cited “the additional stress over the events of the past two weeks and my already difficult battle with maintaining my health” in Friday’s resignation letter.
Gov. Tom Corbett accepted the resignation, which took effect immediately.
“Given the circumstances, he made the right choice,” Turnpike chairman William Lieberman said in a statement.
The grand jury report, formally called a presentment, said Lincoln admitted receiving $3,100 in gift certificates to Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Farmington, Pa., between December 2005 and December 2009 from engineering firm Sucevic, Piccolomini & Kuchar Engineering Inc. of nearby Uniontown, Pa., which began obtaining work from the Turnpike in 2005.
The report also said George Hatalowich, the commission’s former chief operating officer and former contracts administrator, accepted $3,000 worth of gift certificates from the same contractor.
“Commissioner Lincoln often sent thank-you notes,” said the report.
According to court papers, Lincoln explained to the Grand Jury that “Senator No. 6” from Philadelphia and former state Sen. Robert Mellow, a Scranton-area lawmaker, “exerted tremendous influence over the Turnpike.”
The report also tied Lincoln to the scheme when he was a lawmaker, before his appointment to the commission.
“You’re constantly raising money,” former Mellow chief of staff Anthony Lepore said, according to court documents. “Some of the groups you raise money off of are lawyers. They are engineering firms. They are banks. ... So to do that, you’re raising money and then they say, oh, by the way, Bill Lincoln, I really want to be part of this bond issue at the turnpike. Can you help me out with it? I’ve been your friend.
“We’ve gotten to know each other. I need some help. We pick up the phone and get them into the Turnpike. An engineering firm says, hey, Bill Lincoln, we want to be on the top list, let’s just say, to get a big contract out at the Turnpike. Can you help me out? And we did.”
Lincoln said in his resignation letter: “I am proud of my time as a commissioner,” and cited Pittsburgh-area work on the Turnpike network, the Mon-Fayette Expressway and the Southern Beltway.
He served as state representative for six years and senator for 16 before his 2004 appointment to the Turnpike Commission. He became secretary-treasurer in 2011.
Kane said the grand jury probe revealed criminal acts that resulted in the misuse and theft of millions of public dollars, filed charges against Mellow, Hatalowich, former Turnpike chief executive Joseph Brimmeier, former commissioner Mitchell Rubin, and former employees Melvin Shelton and Raymond Zajicek. In addition, Turnpike vendors Dennis Miller and Jeffrey Suzensky are charged with a variety of offenses, including conspiracy, commercial bribery, big-rigging, theft, conflict of interest and corrupt organization violations.
Then-Gov. Ed Rendell appointed Brimmeier, an influential Allegheny County political operative, as the Turnpike’s CEO in 2003.
The grand jury, which examined a list of bond underwriters from 2003 to 2010, reported that Mellow and Lepore intervened directly to secure bond work for PNC Capital Markets. PNC has declined comment, but said the report does not accuse PNC of wrongdoing.
The Turnpike is also under fire for its spiraling debt, which has spiked from $2.6 billion in 2008 to more than $8 billion. Corbett in January recommended phasing out the Turnpike’s $450 million yearly payment to the state’s Department of Transportation for mass transit and road-repair projects. Before he left in January, Auditor General Jack Wagner chided the agency for excessive use of interest-rate swaps.