HARRISBURG – Attorney General Tom Corbett announced the findings of an extensive statewide grand jury investigation into allegations of misconduct by public officials in Haverford Township, Delaware County, including the filing of criminal charges against township commissioner Fred C. Moran.
Additionally, the grand jury found that many of Pennsylvania’s statutes intended to provide public information about governmental actions, such as the Sunshine Act, fail to adequately protect the public interest. The grand jury recommended significant strengthening and clarification of the Sunshine Act, along with more severe penalties, in order to discourage public officials from violating the law and disregarding the public’s right to access and information. (Click here to view a copy of the grand jury report on Corbett’s site.)
“This case demonstrates the efforts that some public officials will make to advance their own private interests at the expense of the public’s right to be informed,” Corbett said. “It also clearly shows that Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Act and other related laws are ill-equipped to combat this problem and are desperately in need of enhancement.”
Corbett said the grand jury investigation began in November 2004 following a referral from the Delaware County District Attorney’s office concerning possible violations of state law during the marketing and sale of the former Haverford State Hospital, located in Haverford Township. That 212 acre property was sold to the township by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in September 2002 with the agreement that at least 120 acres of undeveloped open space would be reserved for public recreation.
The grand jury found that between September 2002 and November 2004 certain public officials in Haverford Township ignored their duty to keep the public and fellow elected officials informed about official actions concerning the state hospital property, intentionally operating in secret in order to further their own private political ambitions and insure that development of the site would remain closely within their control.
Corbett said the grand jury also found that other township officials who were aware of these secret activities chose to remain ignorant of the details or remain silent about the misconduct of their colleagues.
Corbett said the grand jury made the following conclusions about the conduct of members of the Haverford Township Board of Commissioners:
— Certain Haverford Township public officials ignored laws pertaining to townships and their own governing charter throughout their pursuit of development for the Haverford State Hospital site.
— Public officials completely ignored the First Class Township Code’s requirement to advertise for public bid or public auction any township real estate for sale that has a value in excess of $1,500.
— Development offers for the Haverford State Hospital property were repeatedly reviewed, discussed and eliminated outside the scope of the public.
— Commissioners Fred Moran and George Twardy circumvented any notion of an appropriate public sale process for the Haverford State Hospital property when they secretly revealed the details of a competitors purchase offer to developer Goldenberg/Pohlig.
— In December 2003 Commissioner Fred Moran agreed, without the public’s knowledge, to pay $600,000 to attorney Jeffrey Rotwitt from a $5,000,000 down payment on the hospital property paid by developer Goldenberg/Pohlig.
— On numerous occasions Haverford Township officials intentionally lied or remained silent about the $600,000 payment to the law firm of Obermayer, Rebman, Maxwell and Hippel for the services of attorney Jeffrey Rotwitt and other Obermayer attorneys.
— The Haverford Township solicitor repeatedly acted as if his clients were only the majority commissioners and not the township, its citizens and taxpayers.
— The solicitor repeatedly failed to advise the Board of Commissioners, in private or in public, of the applicable laws and charter provisions that should have defined or limited the Board’s conduct.
— The solicitor repeatedly failed to advise the Minority Commissioners and the public about official actions being conducted in secret. Even under direct questioning at public meetings, the solicitor frequently failed to disclose either the law or facts material to the township’s interest.
— The solicitor failed to adequately review the Agreement of Sale and Escrow Agreement between Haverford Township and developer Goldenberg/Pohlig. Likewise, the solicitor failed to require that these agreements be published to the full Board of Commissioners and the public and be voted upon in a public meeting.
— Commissioner Fred Moran intentionally subverted the law by facilitating Commissioner Carolyn Parker’s continued Board membership, from September 2002 until December 2003, notwithstanding the fact that she was no longer a resident of the township.
Corbett said the grand jury made the following recommendations concerning the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act and other regulations:
— The Legislature should significantly clarify and strengthen the Sunshine Act.
— Civil and administrative enforcement provisions and penalties should be added to the Act.
— Criminal penalties should be strengthened and broadened.
— The Legislature should use the structure of Pennsylvania’s Ethics Act as a model for enhancements to the Sunshine Act.
— Administrative enforcement of the Sunshine Act should be vested in the Pennsylvania Ethics Commission.
— The Sunshine Act should specifically address intentional misrepresentations by public officials along with the failure by officials to publicly disclose material facts about official actions.
— Pennsylvania’s township codes should be amended to clarify the duties and responsibilities of township solicitors and clearly state that the loyalty of the solicitor must be to the township and its citizen taxpayers.
— Township managers and finance directors should receive two-year written contracts in order to allow these officials to monitor township expenditures more independently and without fear of retaliation or loss of employment.
— The results of all township fiscal audits should be reported to citizens by direct mail or posted on a public Web site.
Written policies should be adopted and enforced aggressively by Haverford Township as to what constitutes an appropriate commissioner expense.
— All expenses submitted for payment should require completion of a written expense report detailing the nature of the expense as well as providing receipts, and should comply with the applicable Township Code and statutes.
— Corbett said that the detailed grand jury report concerning alleged misconduct by Haverford Township officials, along with recommendations for enhancements to the Sunshine Act and regulations for public officials, is available for review on the Attorney General’s website. Additionally, copies of the report will be filed as public record with Court of Common Pleas in Dauphin and Delaware counties, and delivered to members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, the Pennsylvania Senate, the Haverford Township Board of Commissioners, the Secretary of the Commonwealth and the District Attorney of Delaware County.
Corbett said that in addition to recommending sweeping changes to Pennsylvania’s public meeting laws, the grand jury also recommended the filing of criminal charges against Haverford Township Commissioner Fred C. Moran, 61, 2717 Prescott Road, Havertown.
Moran is charged with one count each of bribery in official and political matters, theft by deception and theft by unlawful taking, all third-degree felonies punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine. Additionally, Moran is charged with one count of obstructing the administration of law or other governmental functions, a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to two years in prison and a $5,000 fine.