- - Monday, February 3, 2014

Jeh C. Johnson, only recently confirmed as chief of the Department of Homeland Security, is off to an inglorious start. As our own Jim McElhatton and Kelly Riddell reported Monday, Mr. Johnson’s own right-hand man, Christian Marrone, was previously the right-hand man of a Philadelphia politician with a felonious bent.

The most ethical administration in history — just ask Barack Obama — knows how to pick ‘em.

As the chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security, Mr. Marrone now has 240,000 employees and a $60 billion budget to administer. That’s a lot of responsibility for someone tutored by one Vincent J. Fumo, a Democratic power broker in Philadelphia and master of pay-to-play politics.

Mr. Marrone married his daughter and soon after was rewarded with a series of patronage jobs, including operations director of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.

Corruption has been epidemic, perhaps even pandemic, at the turnpike. One former operations manager pleaded guilty to corruption last month and implicated several other employees, contractors and politicians, including Mr. Fumo.

The stealing at the toll road was bipartisan. According to prosecutors, the majority party got to award 60 percent of state contracts for the turnpike to campaign contributors, and the minority party could give away the remaining 40 percent.

In Mr. Fumo’s own corruption trial in 2009, Mr. Marrone testified that he ran errands for Mr. Fumo, who diverted money from state contractors to pay for improvements to his home, a nice pad with a carbon footprint big enough to rival Al Gore’s sprawling estate in Tennessee.

The 19th-century manse, listed for sale at $6 million, includes 33 rooms and even a shooting range in the basement. It was a big fixer-upper, and Mr. Marrone was put in charge of fixing it up to the demanding Mr. Fumo’s standards.

“He needed somebody to come and basically manage the project,” Mr. Marrone testified. “I was eager to do whatever I could … . Everything he asked me to do, we did it one-by-one.”

Mr. Marrone was in charge of restoring the plumbing, updating the electricity, repainting the interior, repairing the sidewalk heaters and most important of all, making sure the water jets in the third-floor Jacuzzi operated properly.

Mr. Fumo prized cleanliness as next to godliness. “Do whatever you have to, to find out who at the Academy of Music handles their maintenance,” Mr. Fumo told him, “and get ours to work like theirs. I don’t care what it costs.” Particularly since it wasn’t his money paying for it.

Mr. Marrone, who was on the state Senate payroll at the time, got it done in time to allow Mr. Fumo to spend the last six months of his felony corruption sentence at his freshly restored mansion.

Mr. Marrone always wanted to do the right thing. When investigators called, he agreed to be the star witness against his father-in-law.

Grateful prosecutors declined to charge him with a crime. Mr. Marrone was then free to make his way from Philadelphia to Washington for a job at the Pentagon in the administrations of both George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Sometimes the system works in wondrous ways.

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