New Homeland official was key figure in Pennsylvania corruption case

Administration won’t discuss vetting, or say if Jeh Johnson knew of top aide’s past

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson’s newest appointee to his inner circle, chief of staff Christian Marrone, rose to Washington power player via the streets of Pennsylvania’s pay-to-play politics.

Mr. Marrone acknowledged in court that as a Pennsylvania legislative aide he oversaw the private renovation of his politician boss’s mansion — all while drawing paychecks from taxpayers, according to court records reviewed by The Washington Times.

Mr. Marrone was never charged, but prosecutors estimated that he spent 80 percent of his first year and a half in his state job doing the private work of state Sen. Vince Fumo, the records show.

The job afforded him a steady salary right out of college and the opportunity to court and eventually marry Mr. Fumo’s daughter. It also allowed him to help land his father a patronage job in the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission that lasted 10 years, records show.

Ultimately, father and son were ensnared as cooperating witnesses in corruption trials, testifying about pay-to-play schemes and diversion of tax dollars.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson "was impressed with Mr. Marrone's integrity and management abilities" while serving together at the Department of Defense, a DHS spokesman said.

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Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson “was impressed with Mr. Marrone’s integrity and ... more >

Christian Marrone agreed to become a central witness in the 2008 federal trial that sent his father-in-law, Mr. Fumo, to prison for four years on 137 corruption charges.

In court, Mr. Marrone blamed the culture of south Philadelphia politics for his actions, saying he was young and didn’t know any better at the time. But he also acknowledged that he was so concerned about the activities in Mr. Fumo’s office that he kept a stockpile of documents for his own “protection” because he expected one day to land in court.

Now, a dozen years after he parted with Mr. Fumo and six years after his federal criminal trial testimony, he is poised to serve as chief of staff to Mr. Johnson, who oversees Homeland Security’s roughly $60 billion of security money each year and possesses some of the country’s most sensitive secrets about terrorism threats.

How Mr. Marrone’s appointment made it through the vetting process for sensitive senior jobs could spur questions about Mr. Johnson’s judgment and the rigors of the Obama administration’s review process, observers told The Times.

“From a security standpoint, this would be a problem for me,” said I.C. Smith, a former FBI counterintelligence agent, adding that concerns about Mr. Marrone “looking the other way” during his years with Mr. Fumo would raise flags in a background check.

“The fact that he testified in 2008, they would have to explain the circumstances of his testimony, and that would pull back the whole scab of his employment at the time. Perhaps he was young and naive and that’s an excuse, but it’s not a very good excuse.”

Homeland Security Department officials declined to disclose how Mr. Marrone’s court admissions figured into the vetting process, but said they were confident about his personal ethics and his ability to handle his position.

“During his time in government, Mr. Marrone has won the confidence of two secretaries — Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson — under two administrations,” Homeland Security spokesman Peter Boogaard said in an emailed statement.

“During their time together at the Department of Defense, Secretary Johnson was impressed with Mr. Marrone’s integrity and management abilities, and he will be a strong addition to the management team at DHS.”

Mr. Marrone declined repeated requests to talk on the record for this article. But in his 2008 court testimony, he acknowledged that he collected a taxpayer salary as a Pennsylvania legislative aide while spending much of his job supervising Mr. Fumo’s personal home construction project.

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About the Author
Kelly Riddell

Kelly Riddell

Kelly Riddell covers national security for The Washington Times.

Before joining The Times, Kelly was a Washington-based reporter for Bloomberg News for six years, covering the intersection between business and politics through a variety of industry-based beats. She most recently covered technology, where her reports ranged from cybersecurity to congressional policymakers.

Before joining Bloomberg, she was a management consultant and ...

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