DA arrests 12-3-19

This morning (Tuesday, 12/3/19), Chester County District Attorney Thomas Hogan announced five arrests in the investigation of illegal intimidation of residents by Sunoco security along the Dragonpipe (Mariner East pipeline system). These arrests reveal the deliberate process by which Energy Transfer, Sunoco’s parent, paid State Constables, in uniform, to intimidate residents.

The Constables. The story actually begins back in August, when two State Constables were arrested for working as private security guards for Sunoco. State Constables are elected officials who are not allowed to hire themselves out as private security guards while working as constables, but two of them (Michael Robel and Kareem Johnson) did so, keeping the public away from Lisa Drive in Exton, where Sunoco was dealing with sinkhole problems. Robel made the mistake of accosting a Chester County plain-clothes detective, showing the detective his constable’s badge and telling him not to park on Lisa Drive. Johnson had a similar encounter with a freelance journalist.

State Constables are required to report any payments they receive over $1,300; but these two apparently received $27,995 and $36,785 from Sunoco and did not report it.

These details were laid out in the article linked above. Neither of the two constables is mentioned by name in today’s press release from the DA’s office, however.

Involvement of TigerSwan and Raven Knights. Four employees of two security firms hired by Sunoco (TigerSwan and Raven Knights) were among the five arrested. According to the DA’s press release, Sunoco got these two firms to hire the constables as security guards. They were paid with money channeled through a Sunoco subcontractor that was not involved in Mariner East work, so that the payments could not easily be traced.

TigerSwan is the notorious security company accused of civil rights violations in the Dakota Access Pipeline confrontations. Raven Knights was formed by two former Pennsylvania State Troopers, James Murphy and Richard Lester. Murphy, the DA’s press release notes, “is not permitted to hold a private detective license because of prior misconduct”.

Energy Transfer’s Recknagel accused of arranging the operation. Frank Recknagel, Energy Transfer’s Security Manager, stands accused of arranging for the hiring of the constables for Sunoco security, and for arranging the clandestine payments to the constables. The press release says that “further investigation revealed that Energy Transfer’s security director Frank Recknagel orchestrated the scheme to misuse the Constables. Recknagel affirmatively decided that Energy Transfer wanted to use State Constables for security. Recknagel stated that he wanted ‘licensed armed un[i]formed PA States Constables’ to perform security, and that hiring on-duty law enforcement officials was Energy Transfer’s ‘unwritten policy.’”

Energy Transfer is denying wrongdoing and blaming the security firms. In a statement, the company says, “The Pennsylvania constables in question were hired by an independent, Pennsylvania-based security firm to support the West Whiteland Police Department….”

But according to a report by CBS Channel 3, “In a statement, the West Whiteland Police Department says ‘at no time’ did the department request Energy Transfer ‘to provide security for any of its work sites in West Whiteland Township.’ The department says in December 2018, Energy Transfer contacted them about hiring off-duty officers to provide security at work sites but the department declined the request.” A press release to the same effect appears on the West Whiteland website.

How high does it go? In the press release, DA Hogan is quoted as saying, “These types of investigations are complex and time consuming. We are working our way up a chain of corruption, which has both corporate and political ramifications. Other law enforcement entities also are investigating. It will be interesting to see where the evidence leads.”

Interesting indeed.

Some speculation on where this might heading. There are many questions raised, but not answered, by the DA’s press release. I find it interesting to consider some of the things the press release does not say.

The fact that the two constables are not named makes me wonder if they are cooperating in the investigation. The release does mention the involvement of “multiple constables”, which suggests that more than the original two might be implicated.

The existence of an “unwritten policy” of hiring active law enforcement personnel for security suggests to me that Energy Transfer may have routinely followed this practice at other locations where the company has pipelines or other assets. And the mention of “political ramifications” suggests that Sunoco may have had help from elected officials here in Pennsylvania.

And there is the mention of “other law enforcement entities” that are conducting investigations. That is presumably referring to the investigations being undertaken by the state Attorney General or the FBI, or both.

The five who were arrested will have an initial hearing on December 20 before a judge in Chester County. Each is accused of “bribery, dealing in unlawful proceeds, conspiracy, and related offenses”. The number of counts ranges from 44 to 54. Most of the counts are felonies, with potential penalties of up to 5 years in prison and $10,000 in fines for each count (if I am reading the statute—Title 65 § 11090—correctly). I encourage readers who are knowledgeable in the law to correct me if I have that wrong.

[Update on 12/4/19: A lawyer friend tells me there are potentially much greater penalties than those I listed. For example, for “Conspiracy to Deal in Proceeds of an Unlawful Activity” (one of the offenses in question), there can be penalties up to 20 years in jail. These people almost certainly won’t get the maximum sentence. But even the minimum sentence under the guidelines for a first-degree felony, for someone with no prior record, is 9 months for each count.]

It seems very likely that this story will not end with just these five defendants (plus a few State Constables). I’ll keep you posted.