Feds: Pa treasurer Rob McCord secretly taped millionaire pal nearly 20 times in pay-to-play scheme

Chester County millionaire Richard Ireland, right, is escorted into the Federal Court Builing in Harrisburg shielded by his bodyguard, Brian Westmoreland, left, as he showed up for his arraignment after being nabbed in the FBI's pay-to-play investigation.

In nearly 20 secretly recorded conversations, state Treasurer Rob McCord captured a millionaire pay-to-play suspect on  tape promising to take “very good care” of McCord and put him on his “payroll” when McCord left office, federal prosecutors say.

At one meeting,  the prosecutors said,  the suspect, Chester County businessman Richard Ireland, gave McCord a handwritten document that summarized their dealings. It listed the many fees Ireland had garnered over the years from the Treasury Department as well as the $200,000 in yearly campaign donations Ireland gave McCord and others.

In a legal filing Friday, the government provided fresh information about the investigation that led to Ireland’s indictment this summer on charges of dangling campaign cash and a job offer to obtain lucrative state business handed out by the treasurer.

McCord taped his friend, Ireland, in November and December 2014 after the treasurer had agreed to cooperate with prosecutors but before he publicly admitted extorting campaign contributions and resigned from office.  In all, prosecutors said they have assembled 2,000 text messages and audio and video tapes in the probe.

Ireland told McCord on tape that he and his associates worked on “Broad Street,” a reference, prosecutors said, to Ireland's expectation of a two-way relationship with McCord.

Prosecutors said Ireland’s pledge to later reward McCord by putting him on his company's payroll was part of a pattern. In “multiple conversations,” Ireland told McCord he had paid money in consultant’s fees to a previous state treasurer, giving that former official more than $600,000, the filing said.  

The government’s legal brief did not identify that treasurer,  but the reference was clearly to Barbara Hafer, who is charged with lying to the FBI after denying she had received $675,000 in consulting fees from Ireland after stepping down in 2005.

That Ireland repeatedly disclosed on tape his financial arrangement with Hafer suggests McCord's role as a secret informant paid an unexpected dividend, permitting federal prosecutors to leap-frog to another suspect and build a separate case against another state treasurer.

Ireland and Hafer were charged in separate indictments on the same day in July.  Ireland, a Republican, is scheduled to go on trial in March and Hafer, a Republican who later switched parties,  the following month.

Hafer has said in court papers that she answered honestly in denying receiving the $675,000  because the money went to the consulting firm bearing her name, not to her personally.

McCord's sentencing on a guilty plea of attempted extortion of campaign donations has been delayed almost two years and presumably will not take place until after he testifies for the prosecution against Ireland.

For decades, Ireland, 79,  has contributed generously to politicians at all levels, from county commissioners to presidential candidates.

At the same time, he has earned big fees from investment firms for serving as a “finder,” drumming up business for them with local and state agencies. He has helped his clients land contacts not only with the state treasurer, but with SEPTA, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commissions, and the governments of all four counties that touch Philadelphia.

Joseph Torsella, who takes office as state treasurer next week, has pledged to forbid any financial companies that do business with the  treasury from paying  “finders” to line up work. 

Torsella has said rewarding finders smacks of insider deals while increasing costs to  taxpayers. Representatives of such firms dispute his criticism.

The financial firms that Ireland promoted were not identified in the indictment. But  billing records from the Treasury Department,  obtained by the Inquirer under the state’s right-to-know law, identify three firms that  received public money on the key dates listed by prosecutors in the indictment.  The firms were Valley Forge Asset Management, of King of Prussia; Pacer Advisors, of Paoli; and Weaver C. Barksdale and Associates, of Nashville.  Executives of those firms could not be reached for comment.  

Ireland has financially backed dozens of officials, but was especially generous in giving campaign money to Hafer, elected treasurer in 1996 and again in 2000. In all, Ireland and his firm showered her with more than $475,000.

While not a heavy contributor to the next elected state treasurer, Bob Casey,  Ireland emerged again as a significant contributor to McCord in his successful bid to be elected treasurer and in a losing bid to become governor.  

In all, federal prosecutors said in their pleading Friday,  Ireland tried to funnel more than $500,000 in campaign donations to McCord.  They contended that he often tried to hide his role.

In one tactic to disguise his giving, prosecutors said, Ireland gave money to charities with the understanding that the principals of the charity would then give money to candidate McCord.

In another ploy, prosecutor said Friday,  Ireland and his associates gave McCord $100,000 in December 2014, but dated the checks for the following month and year. The delay meant the gifts would not have to be revealed to the public on state disclosure forms for one year.

The goal, prosecutors said, was to  put daylight between the donations and the awarding of a lucrative state Treasury contract.

Ireland’s Washington lawyer, Brian M. Heberlig, declined comment Monday, saying his client’s position was detailed in an earlier court filing that sought to have all charges dismissed.

In that filing,  Ireland’s lawyers argued that the prosecutors were improperly trying to criminalize routine campaign contributions and unfairly characterizing them as bribes.

In Friday's pleading, federal prosecutors Phillip Caraballo, Michael Consiglio, William Houser, and Carlo Marchioli rejected that argument, saying that Ireland was seeking an explicit return for his donations in the form of state contracts.

Editor's Note: This story was corrected to reflect that Richard Ireland is scheduled to go on trial in March.