WEST CHESTER, Pa.
After a judge dismissed the most serious charges, a southeastern Pennsylvania jury convicted two constables of misdemeanor counts of failing to disclose money they earned as private security guards for the Mariner East pipeline project.
Jurors in Chester County deliberated for a little more than an hour last week before convicting 49-year-old Kareem Johnson and 59-year-old Michael Robel of the third-degree misdemeanor.
Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey Sommer earlier dismissed felony bribery charges and counts of official oppression and conflict of interest. He said there was no evidence that the two benefitted as public officials from working as security guards for the pipeline construction company, something he said was not barred by state law.
Prosecutors alleged that the two displayed their guns and badges in 2018 while patrolling the pipeline in West Whiteland Township, but defense attorneys told jurors that the case was rooted in the pipeline “and the politics associated with it.”
The Mariner East pipeline project, aimed at carrying pressurized natural gas vapors from the Marcellus Shale region of western Pennsylvania across the commonwealth to a refinery in Marcus Hook, has drawn steady criticism from activists and some residents.
Robel’s attorney, Giuseppe Rosselli, called the remaining count a “paperwork crime,” The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Both defendants testified that they were confused by the financial disclosure forms.
First Assistant District Attorney Michael Barry called the case a matter of transparency, saying the men knew they were supposed to report the salaries they had collected from Energy Transfer Partners through a subcontractor.
The former district attorney in late 2019 had alleged a “buy-a-badge” scheme to use constables as private security for the project. Charges were later dropped against two defendants, one died and two others entered an accelerated rehabilitation program for first-time offenders that will see the charges dismissed, the Inquirer reported.
”Mike Robel and Kareem Johnson were collateral damage of a prosecution aimed at delaying the construction of the pipeline over the last four years,“ Rosselli said. “Despite the arrest of seven people, no one was convicted of anything related to the construction of the pipeline.”