State politicians and members of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission have been charged with violating state ethics laws and criminal conspiracy by awarding contracts to vendors that contributed to particular state politicians.

According to recently filed criminal charges, the Turnpike Commission’s chief received direction from a State Senator or his chief of staff as to which contractors would be awarded Turnpike contracts. The Senator also directed political fundraising efforts of Turnpike personnel and vendors. For example, the Turnpike chief executive officer is alleged to have used lists of Turnpike engineering and construction firms to generate invitations to political fundraisers and contacted vendors directly to discuss their political participation.

This conduct occurred even though the Turnpike Commission had well-defined procurement procedures in place and utilized a Technical Review Committee. The TRC would advertise for bids, review letters of intent, assess the strength and weaknesses of each bid, and select three to five bids for serious consideration. But, then the State Senator or his chief of staff would contact the Turnpike Commission’s chief executive and tell him which firm should receive the contract, even if that firm was not one of the top five bidders.

The scheme started falling apart when employees started complaining about the improper conduct. A few of these employees were fired and have since sued the Commission, alleging that they were fired for blowing the whistle on the scheme.

The Commission members and the State Senator have been charged with bid rigging, commercial bribery, and criminal conspiracy.

Interesting, but sad story of wasting tax payer money.