Ex-Pa. Treasurer Rob McCord Will Plead Guilty to 2 Extortion Charges

Just-resigned Pennsylvania Treasurer Rob McCord plans to plead guilty to federal extortion charges for using his office to threaten potential donors into contributing money to his failed gubernatorial campaign, according to court papers filed Monday.

The papers include a plea agreement signed by McCord, and a guilty plea is set for Feb. 17, said McCord's lawyer, Robert Welsh.

Prosecutors filed two charges of extortion in connection with McCord's dealings with a Philadelphia-based law firm and a western Pennsylvania-based property management firm.

The maximum penalty for each charge is 20 years in prison, and Welsh said it will be up to the judge to decide the punishment.

The firms were not named, but in the few details revealed about the case, it appeared clear that McCord's telephone conversations were being recorded.

At the time, McCord was trailing badly to the eventual Democratic primary winner, Tom Wolf, and he was burning quickly through his campaign cash with about a month before the primary election.

In an April 21 phone call, McCord complained to an unnamed lawyer that his law firm's managing partner had not pledged more than $5,000 to McCord's campaign, despite McCord's entreaties. The managing partner was a supporter of Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican who was seeking re-election, and a likely supporter of someone else for governor in 2018, McCord noted.

"And that's fine, but you also run a law firm, so if you are not going to hedge your bet, don't think that I am so stupid that I am not going to read the riot act down the road," McCord told the lawyer. "You know what I mean?"

McCord also encouraged the lawyer, who was a neighbor in the Philadelphia suburb of Bryn Mawr, to speak to the managing partner to let him know that a $25,000 contribution would be acceptable, even if through another conduit, such as the lawyer or the lawyer's wife.

And he urged the lawyer to tell the managing partner that McCord could use his position as treasurer to hurt the law firm if he did not get a satisfactory donation.

"You can say to him, 'my concern is that if he loses and you stiffed him, every time you are trying to get something done through state government you are going to have the state treasurer looking to screw you, you know,'" McCord told the lawyer.

The law firm had billed the state for hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal services in recent years.

McCord made similar statements to the lawyer and the managing partner in the following two weeks.

In an April 14 conversation with someone helping him raise money, McCord encouraged the fundraiser to pressure a property management company whose principals, he felt, had not delivered on a promise to give him a substantial campaign check.

The company had received benefits and incentives from the state government in the past, the court papers said.

"And you get what I am saying on the ... hazard side. I just want 'em to realize like, you know, I could take an upside and turn it into down side here, you know," McCord told the fundraiser.

McCord, 55, had been midway through his second term as state treasurer when he resigned Friday and said he planned to plead guilty to federal charges accusing him of using his office to threaten potential campaign donors last year. He apologized in a video released by his lawyers Friday and said he accepted responsibility for his actions.

He said in the video that he had "stepped over the line" by telling two potential campaign contributors that, as treasurer, he "could make things difficult for them" if they did not donate.

"I essentially said that the potential contributors should not risk making an enemy of the state treasurer," McCord said in the video. "Clearly that was wrong, I was wrong. It was a mistake. I stand ready to pay the price for that mistake."

As treasurer — one of three elected row offices in Pennsylvania, along with attorney general and auditor general — McCord oversaw a massive financial operation that holds state funds, handles state government investments and pays its bills and employees.

The man who had been McCord's chief counsel, Christopher Craig, has been running Treasury since Friday as executive deputy state treasurer.

Wolf will nominate someone to finish the last two years of McCord's term. The state Senate must confirm the appointment.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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