Chester County millionaire Richard Ireland faces corruption prosecutors in pay-to-play trial

Chester County millionaire Richard Ireland ( right) walks into the Federal Building with his bodyguard, Brian Westmoreland (left) on Aug. 1, 2016, for Ireland's arraignment on fraud charges in connection with a pay-to-play corruption scheme. Ireland's trial began on Friday.

HARRISBURG -  With former Pennsylvania Treasurer Rob McCord lined up as the star prosecution witness, a federal prosecutor Friday opened the trial of a Chester County businessman for alleged pay-to-play corruption, saying the man used “layers of concealment” for years to hide bribes to McCord.

The defendant, Richard Ireland, 79, is charged with seeking to bribe McCord with more than $500,000 in actual or pledged campaign donations — secretly funneling much of it through fronts — and by promising McCord a high-finance job after he returned to the private sector.

Prosecutor Michael Consiglio told the jury of seven women and five men that Ireland wanted McCord to award millions of dollars in government contracts to financial firms to which Ireland had financial ties.

Ireland, who lives on a 160-acre horse farm outside West Chester, has been a major political donor for decades. At the same time, he has worked as a “finder,” a kind of super-salesman recommending financial firms to government officials to manage public money and getting paid a share of the contract in return.

Between 2001 and 2010, the state treasury paid these financial firms $36 million in fees, with Ireland’s firm often collecting half of the fees, the prosecutor said.

Once a deal was deal was struck, Consiglio said, “it continued. No other heavy lifting was required. Just sit back and collect.”

He also said Ireland told McCord, in a recorded meeting, that their relationship would be “like Broad Street.” When McCord asked him if that meant it was a two-way street, Ireland replied yes, the prosecutor told the jurors.

Ireland’s defense lawyer, Reid H. Weingarten, rejected that contention.

In his opening statement, Weingarten said his client’s personal motto was, “Good people do good things for good friends.”

He told the jury that “pay-to-play is not a crime,” but rather that “play-to-win” crosses the line. In Ireland’s pursuit of business, the lawyer said, “he won some and he lost some. The fix was never in. There was no quid pro quo.”

At the same time, Weingarten castigated McCord as a calculating cheat with “limitless” ambition.

“His entire motivation is to stay out of jail,” the lawyer said. “His entire motivation is to get someone else — today, my client — to do his jail time.”

For many years, one of Ireland's key clients, Valley Forge Asset Management of King of Prussia, was the No. 1 recipient in state Treasury Department fees.

In July, the grand jury charged Ireland with 79 counts of mail fraud, wire fraud and other offenses, saying that he conspired to defraud the public of the “honest services” of McCord.

McCord was not charged in the case. Indeed, prosecutors said in pre-trial court papers that they need not prove he actually took any action to assist Ireland.  They said it is enough for a conviction to show that Ireland’s intent was criminal.

Still, McCord, 58, a Democrat, faces his own serious legal problems completely apart from Ireland.  He stepped down from office and pleaded guilty just over two years ago to attempted extortion, agreeing that he used the power of his office to try to bully potential contributors into making campaign donations. Ireland was not a factor in that case.

Before his plea, sources say, McCord was secretly taped by John H. Estey, a top lobbyist who had formerly worked for many years as an aide to Ed Rendell, the former governor and Philadelphia mayor. Estey, like McCord, is awaiting sentencing on a guilty plea in federal court.

To win leniency, McCord, too, began surreptitiously taping his acquaintances — including Ireland.  In all, the government says, it has assembled nearly 20 tapes of McCord and Ireland talking, some recorded with McCord’s knowledge and others picked up on wiretaps unknown to both men.

Prosecutors said Ireland funneled campaign contributions to McCord, a Democrat, through a Chester County food bank and a cancer charity. But defense lawyers said their client, who has mainly given to Republicans, had concealed his contributions because he did not want Republicans to know he was donating to a Democrat.

Friday’s first prosecution witness, Vincent Lowry, a long-time Treasury Department consultant, tutored the jury on how treasury officials use outside financial managers to invest $17 billion annually in taxpayers’ money. Under cross-examination, Lowry agreed with defense attorney Weingarten’s statement that the government made “a ton of money” by using investment firms that Ireland recommended.

 Weingarten is a prominent Washington lawyer whose clients have included top corporate and political figures caught up in high-profile investigations.

The prosecution team also includes William S. Houser, who pursued the so-called “kids for cash” case in which two former Luzerne County judges were imprisoned in a kickback scheme involving for-profit juvenile-detention centers.

Consiglio is also among the prosecutors bringing a pending case against another former treasurer, Barbara Hafer, a Republican who switched parties to become a Democrat.

Hafer, 73, treasurer from 1997 until 2004, is charged with lying to the FBI in denying that she received $675,000 from Ireland after leaving office – the same kind of arraignment that Ireland allegedly offered McCord.  Before stepping down, Hafer had greatly boosted the financial-management contracts given Ireland’s clients.  She is to go on trial in June.    

Joseph M. Torsella, the Democrat elected treasurer last November, has banned any firms that use  “finders” from doing business with his agency. In the fall, federal regulators are expected to impose a nationwide ban on campaign donations from such salespeople.