Paying the toll: PA Turnpike scandal yields guilty plea

By Andrew Staub | PA Independent

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Raymond J. Zajicek walked out of a Dauphin County courtroom Monday afternoon, saying nothing after pleading guilty to charges of abusing his post as an official with the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.

Zajicek’s attorney, David Berardinelli, indicated the former fare collection operations manager would not testify against several others caught up in pay-to-play scandal, which ensnared former state Sen. Robert Mellow, three high-ranking turnpike officials and two others while costing taxpayers millions, Attorney General Kathleen Kane said.

PAYING HIS TOLL: A former Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission employee will serve probation after pleading guilty to abusing his post.

As elevator doors closed on reporters, Berardinelli would only say that Zajicek was not involved with the broader allegations of wrongdoing, including a private turnpike vendor and a consultant.

Minutes later, Joseph Peters, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, said Zajicek was charged “separately and individually” and that his case was “unrelated” to the more severe allegations leveled against Mellow and the turnpike officials — including former CEO Joseph Brimmeier, Zajicek’s pal.

While allegations of bid-rigging, bribery and a pay-to-play system have dogged other defendants, Zajicek pleaded to relatively more pedestrian bad behavior from his days as a turnpike employee.

Zajicek, who is 68, lives in Tarpon Springs, Fla. He pleaded guilty to theft by unlawful taking, unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and harassment, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

Court documents say he collected more than $2,000 in salary for hours he never worked, used a turnpike vehicle for personal reasons and lashed out at a union official during a meeting – prompting a simple assault charge, which, Peters said, was later amended to harassment.

Monday, after Zajicek said little else after affirming a decision to accept the plea, Dauphin County Judge Todd Hoover sentenced him to two years’ probation, fined him a total of $2,100 and ordered $2,128.40 in restitution to the Turnpike Commission.

Before making the deal, Zajicek faced five additional charges, including theft by deception and misapplication of entrusted property and property of government or financial institutions.

Charges against another former turnpike employee, 82-year-old Melvin Shelton of Philadelphia, are separate from the wider investigation into Mellow and the others, Peters said.

Kane announced the charges against Mellow and the turnpike officials in March, with court records detailing secret cash gifts, travel and entertainment and a pay-to-play system that rewarded vendors with massive contracts.

“The findings of the grand jury are very troubling to me,” Kane said then. “These were blatant actions. It was almost as though they had no fear of being caught. That kind of behavior has to stop.”

Andrew Staub is a reporter for PA Independent and can be reached at Andrew@PAIndependent.com. Follow @PAIndependent on Twitter for more.

The post Paying the toll: PA Turnpike scandal yields guilty plea appeared first on Watchdog.org.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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