Judge midtrial throws out Pa. pay-to-play case

Written by Marc Levy/The Associated Press | Mar 27, 2017 12:47 PM

FILE PHOTO: In this Feb. 17, 2015, file photo, former elected Pennsylvania state treasurer Rob McCord walks from the U.S. District Court in Harrisburg. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

(Harrisburg) -- A federal judge on Monday threw out a pay-to-play case in the middle of the trial of a wealthy investment adviser accused of bribing Pennsylvania's ex-state treasurer Rob McCord to get lucrative state contracts to invest public dollars.

U.S. District Judge John Jones III dismissed the 79-count case against Richard Ireland in rare fashion, agreeing with defense lawyers that prosecutors had not proven that favors were explicitly traded in exchange for campaign contributions from defendant Richard Ireland.

Jones' ruling came after the prosecution rested in a two-week-old case that had included four days of testimony by McCord and hours of taped conversations between McCord and Ireland. Some of the recordings were made by McCord after he became a cooperating witness with the FBI in November 2014 and began wearing a wire to record Ireland.

McCord resigned from office two years ago and pleaded guilty to extortion counts in a separate federal case involving his fundraising for his failed gubernatorial campaign. He awaits sentencing.

The government cannot appeal the decision. Ireland, 80, declined comment while leaving the federal courts building in downtown Harrisburg.

Ireland had been accused of trying to bribe McCord with more than $500,000 in campaign contributions in what prosecutors called part of a yearslong scheme to land lucrative contracts to invest taxpayer dollars.

Ireland's lead attorney, Reid Weingarten, said the tapes McCord made involved "a sort of awkward fencing," but nothing remotely sufficient to show an illegal and clear exchange.

Another crucial moment was McCord's testimony under cross-examination, Weingarten said. McCord testified that he never thought he had done anything wrong with Ireland before he began wearing a wire to record Ireland.

"I think the case started and finished with the cross-examination of McCord because McCord basically took away any and all possibility that there was bribery," Weingarten said.
Weingarten said he did not know whether prosecutors had expected McCord to testify that he never thought he had been bribed by Ireland.

U.S. Attorney Bruce Brandler would not discuss the details of the case Monday, including McCord's testimony. But Brandler said prosecutors were disappointed with the results and felt they had had enough evidence in the recordings to show an explicit exchange.

Brandler called it a "righteous case that needed to be brought."

"Hopefully, despite the result, it serves a salutary purpose in terms of revealing the relationships that go on between public officials and campaign contributors relating to official acts that the public officials are engaging in with those campaign contributors," Brandler said.

In a key moment in the recorded conversations, McCord asked Ireland for $100,000 if delivered another $175 million in pension fund and treasury investment contracts to Ireland. The money was couched as a campaign contribution to help McCord pay himself back some of the $2 million in personal money he had plunged into his failed gubernatorial campaign.

"Well, let's work on it," Ireland had responded. A few seconds later, he added, "You've been a great friend. I'm with you a hundred percent."

Prosecutors alleged Ireland funneled the cash for six years to McCord's campaigns through friends, family members and employees of his business. But Weingarten said Ireland never sought an exchange of official action for campaign contributions and hid the contributions to a Democrat, McCord, to avoid the ire of fellow Republicans.

During the trial, McCord testified that he also may have to cooperate with authorities in another case.

An earlier story is below:

A judge midtrial has thrown out the pay-to-play case against a wealthy investment adviser accused of bribing a former treasurer to get state business.

U.S. District Judge John Jones III says he saw no evidence that favors were traded in exchange for campaign contributions from defendant Richard Ireland.

The ruling comes after prosecutors rested and the defense was about to start its case in the weeks-long trial.

Prosecutors had relied on several days of testimony from disgraced former treasurer Rob McCord.

He awaits sentencing after pleading guilty to extortion two years ago.

McCord's testimony painted a stark picture of how business gets done in a state without campaign finance limits.

Jones' ruling dismisses the 79-count case against Ireland.

Prosecutors cannot appeal the ruling or retry the case.

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