- Associated Press - Thursday, July 21, 2016

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Federal prosecutors announced charges Thursday against former Pennsylvania Treasurer Barbara Hafer and a businessman in cases that revolved around lucrative contracts state officials award to invest billions of taxpayer dollars.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Harrisburg said the charges against Hafer and Richard W. Ireland, a man who shared in millions of dollars in fees from the Treasury Department, stemmed from pay-to-play investigations. The office already nabbed another former state treasurer, Rob McCord, who resigned from office and pleaded guilty last year.

Hafer, 72, a two-term elected state treasurer, was charged with two counts of making false statements to federal agents in a May interview to conceal payments of $500,000 from a businessman’s firm, prosecutors said.

The businessman shared in fees charged by private asset managers contracted by the Treasury Department while Hafer was in office. Prosecutors said the payments began within weeks of Hafer leaving office in 2005, when she was working as a consultant, and did not require her to achieve any particular result.

The nine-page indictment does not say, however, whether Hafer did anything wrong while in office. Hafer also served two terms as Pennsylvania’s elected auditor general and was the failed Republican gubernatorial nominee in 1990.

Prosecutors declined to say whether the unidentified businessman is Ireland. However, Ireland had contributed previously to Hafer’s campaign, and his firm’s clients had received bigger sums to manage under her.

The U.S. attorney’s office separately announced Thursday it had charged Ireland with 79 counts, including money laundering-related charges, in what it described as an effort to bribe McCord with over $500,000 in secret campaign contributions between 2009 and 2014.

“These secret campaign contributions were given in exchange for McCord’s official decisions to continue to invest in businesses affiliated with Ireland,” prosecutors said in a statement.

Hafer’s lawyers declined comment Thursday. A lawyer for McCord did not return a call seeking comment.

The specifics of what McCord actually did in exchange, if anything, were unclear.

Prosecutors said Ireland and “unindicted coconspirators” sought to enrich themselves through asset management contracts at the treasury and the State Employees Retirement System, a massive pension fund on whose board McCord sat.

McCord, a Democrat, resigned from the treasurer’s office last year before pleading guilty to two counts of attempted extortion, admitting he tried to use his position to strong-arm state contractors into donating money to his failed gubernatorial campaign in 2014.

The indictment said Ireland, 79, operated a bribery and kickback scheme by funneling campaign contributions through relatives, employees and charities to help McCord get elected treasurer, win re-election and run for governor.

As one example, Ireland allegedly gave $20,000 bonuses in October 2009 to three family members and two employees. That same month, they each donated $20,000 to a single charity, and Ireland then directed an official with the unnamed charity to give McCord’s campaign committee $100,000, prosecutors said.

Federal prosecutors say Ireland and his related firms earned over $10 million in fees during the period of the alleged scheme.

Ireland’s lawyer, Joshua Lock, said the charges are based on half-truths, distortions and innuendoes, and predicted that Ireland would be vindicated.

Even before 2009, Ireland and his partner in VFIM Corp., Brian G. McElwee, were generous campaign donors. The two businessmen gave more than $1 million combined to Democratic and Republican groups, PACs and candidates in the decade prior, according to state and federal records.

Hotel ventures in which they were involved donated more than $30,000 to McCord in 2008.

Ireland and McElwee showered Hafer with more than $475,000 in campaign contributions, making her their largest single beneficiary, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Assets under management by clients of Ireland’s Valley Forge-based firm rose under Hafer, before peaking at above $2.5 billion at the beginning of 2008, according to treasury data.

Between 2001 and 2008, those firms had collected nearly $50 million in fees from the state, according to the Treasury Department.

In 2008, then-Treasurer Robin Wiessmann slashed those holdings to under $400 million. At the time, she called it a broader reallocation driven by financial considerations, not politics, to move money into lower-cost, more liquid investment vehicles.

Wiessmann is now Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s secretary of the Department of Banking and Securities.

In a statement, Treasurer Tim Reese, who was nominated by Wolf to replace McCord, said the indictments did not allege the improper use or mismanagement treasury funds.

All proposals by investment managers undergo an independent analysis and due diligence review “with no regard to political considerations,” Reese said.


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