Grand jury: Corrupt senator helped PNC win Turnpike deals

State Sen. Robert Mellow, D-Lackawanna, indicted today by a grand jury investigating the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, "intervened directly on [PNC Bank's] behalf to secure bond work for PNC," according to the grand jury's presentation, which you can read here.

Should the bank share responsibility for Mellow's actions? "Our policy is not to comment on legal matters, but we note that there has been no claim of improper conduct on the part of PNC," bank spokesman Fred Solomon told me. (Mellow is in prison after a conviction on unrelated charges.)

According to testimony by Mellow's former chief of staff, Tony Lepore, who cooperated with the investigation and hasn't been charged, "PNC had gone to Bob Mellow about this time [2005] and said, hey, Bob Mellow, we've never got any work from the Turnpike ever. We're the largest bank in Pennsylvania." So Mellow -- who had made "a fast friendship" with an unnamed PNC official in 2003, and had let the PNC banker take the New York Yankees fan "to Yankees games... ten times a year, maybe more," and sometimes fed him, sent a limo, and brought Mellow associates along -- went to Turnpike officials and said, in essence, "Get PNC some work... Sure enough, you start seeing in 2005, PNC Bank for the first time... starts getting bigger and bigger bumps from the Turnpike..."

Turnpike officials told another PNC veteran to "reach out to Turnpike Commisioners and legislators to obtain work with the Turnpike." The PNC official "met directly with four Senators or their staffs," including Mellow. The PNC man "pitched [PNC] services and identified Turnpike work that PNC would be interested in.... The PNC representative testified that it was common knowledge that Senate Caucus staff had influence over the Commissioners and decisions made at the Turnpike..."

PNC collected $2.5 million in Turnpike underwriter fees over the next six years, while PNC spent thousands on dinners, limo rides and Yankees games for Mellow.

According to the grand jury, "Senator Mellow committed a conflict of interest" by accepting favors for PNC and violated the Election Code by not reporting the favors. The grand jury also found "a prima facie case that Senator Mellow participated in the larger pattern of bid-rigging, improper influence and commerical bribery in his efforts to steer Turnpike bond work to PNC Capital Markets.".