Details on the FBI’s Pay-to-Play Investigation
FBI agents posing as executives of a Florida-based textbook recycling company used Gov. Ed Rendell’s former top aide to make illegal contributions to five state lawmakers between 2009 and 2011, according to a new report by Mark Fazlollah, Craig R. McCoy and Angela Couloumbis of the Inquirer.
In May 2009, FBI agents established Textbook Bio-Solutions LLC and soon after began pushing its agenda in Harrisburg. The fake company’s goal was to require certified recycling centers to dispose of used textbooks, according to the report.
A month later, a federal agent posing as company executive John Miles hired Harrisburg lobbying firm Long Nyquist & Associates – run by two former aides of Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati.
Scarnati himself received $5,000 from Miles in June 2010 and picked up a $17,500 contribution from Long Nyquist’s political action committee in April 2011. Scarnati said he accepted the money in good faith and will donate the money from Miles to charity.
In October 2009, the recycling company hired Estey to lobby state lawmakers on their behalf and began pushing legislation that would require certification for recyclers looking to enter the textbook disposal industry.
Seven months later, State Sen. Ray Musto introduced a bill requiring certifications for textbook recyclers, co-sponsored by Scarnati, Sen. Larry Farnese and 17 other lawmakers.
Weeks after the bill was introduced – and just two days after Scarnati got his $5K contribution – federal agent “John Miles” made a $10,000 donation to State Rep. Dwight Evans, who served as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee at the time.
One year after Estey was hired by federal agents, the much-lobbied-for textbook recycling bill unanimously passed the State Senate, 49-0.
Last week, federal prosecutors and lawyers for John Estey announced the former Rendell chief of staff will plead guilty to wire fraud charges for his involvement in the FBI corruption probe that began seven years ago.
On April 28, 2011, federal agents posing as company executives gave Estey $20K, which he said would pass on to three lawmakers and a leadership caucus, court documents show.
Estey kept $13K for himself and there had been initial confusion as to the whereabouts of the other $7,000.
The Inquirer’s report shows that three State Senators received money from Estey during 2011: Sen. Vincent Hughes ($2K), Sen. Larry Farnese ($1K) and Sen. John Yudichak ($500).
Also in 2011, Estey contributed $2,500 to then-State Rep. (and current Democratic nominee for Attorney General) Josh Shapiro, as well as giving State Rep. (and Congressman-elect) Dwight Evans $1,000 on the same day he advised federal agents to give him the $20K, according to the report.
The FBI’s investigation into pay-to-play politics in Pennsylvania is ramping up, with many wondering who will be the next fish to get fried. Estey served as chief of staff to Gov. Ed Rendell in his first term, while former Treasurer Rob McCord has also been taken down by FBI agents.
Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski and former Reading Mayor Vaughn Spencer are sweating their involvement in an FBI investigation into their cities’ contracting practices, though neither have been charged by authorities.
Estey and McCord have both worn wires for the FBI after being caught, while Pawlowski’s former campaign manager Mike Fleck also wore wires for the agency.
- Textbook Bio-Solutions LLC is registered as a new business in Davie, FL. The address – 15751 Sheridan St. – is a mailing and shipping business run out of a strip mall and has been used by federal agents in a previous sting.
- A federal agent posing as John Miles, a Textbook Bio-Solutions executive, hires Harrisburg lobbying firm Long Nyquist & Associates. The firm, run by two former senior aides to Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, are given a $15K initial payment by Miles.
- John Estey, as head of Ballard Spahr’s lobbying arm, begins representing Textbook Bio-Solutions.
May 26, 2010
- State Sen. Raphael Musto introduces Senate Bill 1379, outlining certifications for recycling companies disposing of textbooks. The measure is co-sponsored by Scarnati and Sen. Larry Farnese, along with more than a dozen other lawmakers.
- Federal agent/company executive “John Miles” contributes $5,000 to Scarnati
- Two days later, Miles contributes $10,000 to State Rep. Dwight Evans, who served as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee at the time. Estey also contributes $5,000 to Evans on the same day.
October 14, 2010
- The State Senate unanimously passes SB 1379, 49-0. The measure never made it to a House vote.
April 28, 2011
- Estey advises Textbook Bio-Solutions LLC to contribute $20,000 to several state lawmakers. Estey tells the executives he will donate $5,000 each to three different lawmakers and one leadership caucus.
- Estey contributes $1,000 to Evans. Estey ends up pocketing $13,000 of the bribe money from federal agents.
April 29, 2011
- Long Nyquist’s political action committee contributes $17,500 to Scarnati.
May 10, 2016
- John Estey is scheduled to plead guilty to wire fraud charges.