The former receiver for Harrisburg wants a special prosecutor to investigate the incinerator bond deals that left the capital city more than $340 million in the hole and on the verge of bankruptcy.
“It got to the point where this thing was so bad, I mean, it stunk like a kettle of rotten fish and that goes through all the testimony for the two days of your hearing. Nothing fits together," David Unkovic said Tuesday before the Senate’s local government committee at the state capitol building.
Unkovic asked the lawmakers to request Attorney General Linda Kelly to appoint a prosecutor.
“What can be more important for an attorney general to do than investigate how the finances of the state capital got ruined?” Unkovic asked during the second session of hearings, delayed by Hurricane Sandy. The committee, chaired by Sen. John Eichelberger, R-Blair Township, held a similar hearing on Oct. 4.
Meanwhile, a state official on Wednesday, in the latest dire warning about Harrisburg’s finances, said the city is in danger of missing its mid-December payroll. Fred Reddig from the Department of Community and Economic Development said Harrisburg could delay some payments or request advance payment from the sale or lease of city assets, the Patriot-News reported.
Unkovic, a 30-year bond attorney, was receiver from November 2011, when Gov. Tom Corbett appointed him, until March, when he abruptly resigned in a handwritten letter. Unkovic had become increasingly irritated at what he considered pushback from lobbyists and some state and regional lawmakers, who opposed his efforts to extract more concessions from major creditors.
Unkovic was among nine people who testified at the capitol Tuesday. Others included city finance director Robert Kroboth and Jeff Haste, chairman of the Dauphin County Commissioners.
Shortly before he resigned, Unkovic asked Kelly and U.S. attorney Peter Smith of the Middle District of Pennsylvania to investigate the bond deals. The Harrisburg City Council has made similar requests to the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Internal Revenue Service.
Eichelberger said at both hearings that the committee would consider new laws to prevent a repeat of a Harrisburg-type fiasco. Unkovic echoed the sentiment of state Auditor General Jack Wagner in favoring a ban against localities engaging in interest-rate swaps. One such $30 million deal in Harrisburg generated $28 million in fees for banks.
“It’s a game of Russian roulette,” Unkovic said.
Eichelberger and his fellow committee members, after the two sessions, were still at a loss over how Harrisburg’s situation worsened.
“It’s hard for me to believe that somebody didn’t recognize that these were very poorly structured deals, that this was a house of cards,” said Eichelberger.
Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon, added: “The question is, who was driving this train? Who's the final … who's in charge? Who's driving the train?”