Most charges dropped against two state constables involved in alleged Mariner East pipeline ‘buy-a-badge’ scheme

  • Kenny Cooper/WHYY

Chester County Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey Sommer has tossed the most serious charges facing two Pennsylvania constables who served as private security guards for the controversial Mariner East pipeline project in West Whiteland Township.

A jury still found Kareem Johnson and Michael Robel guilty of a lesser charge: failing to disclose the wages they had made while working on behalf of Energy Transfer Partners’ Sunoco Logistics unit back in 2018 and 2019. Initially accused of ethics violations such as official oppression, Johnson, of Chester County, and Robel, of Northumberland County, were able to avoid conviction on the most serious charges, including bribery.

The trial’s outcome this week followed Judge Sommer’s dismissal back in January of all charges facing another person involved in the alleged “buy-a-badge” scheme, James Murphy.

An investigation into the alleged scheme began in 2018, after a series of environmental mishaps along the pipeline route. A plainclothes detective was nearly deterred by an armed guard from parking on public grounds.

Eventually, similar intimidation complaints from residents and local journalists surfaced. Johnson and Robel were charged in August 2019.

In December 2019, former Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan charged additional people, including Energy Transfer security manager Frank Recknagel, with various bribery and conspiracy offenses in connection with what Hogan called a “buy-a-badge” scheme unfolding along the Mariner East route that involved 19 state constables.

Hogan also accused them of hiding their payment system.

In a statement at the time, Hogan said, “State constables sold their badges and official authority. Energy Transfer bought those badges and authority, then used them as a weapon to intimidate citizens. And the defendants attempted to conceal their activity through a maze of companies and payments.”

In total, seven people were charged, but so far the charges have not held up in court. Only Johnson and Robel had charges see their way through court proceedings.

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