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Feds Subpoena DRPA Officials in Spending Probe

Federal authorities have stepped up their investigation of the Delaware River Port Authority and millions of dollars in economic development grants and loans it doled out over the years to the politically connected.

Walt Whitman Bridge
Walt Whitman Bridge (DRPA)

The Philadelphia Inquirer was first to report this week that subpoenas had gone out to three DRPA board members: Camden County freeholder Jeffrey Nash, South Jersey labor leader Richard Sweeney and a Pennsylvania commissioner, Philadelphia lawyer William Sasso.

The DRPA runs four Philadelphia-area bridges connecting New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and the PATCO commuter train.

In a report last year, the New Jersey comptroller said the DRPA had been treated “like a personal ATM” by commissioners and others as money was handed out over the years for nontransportation projects.

Sasso, a 2011 appointee, said he’s been asked to provide information about several loans he has criticized as sweetheart deals.

Nash, who has been on the board since 2002, and Sweeney, a 2009 appointee, have not commented. Sweeney is the brother of New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney.

The DRPA spent nearly a half-billion dollars over 15 years to underwrite economic development projects around the Philadelphia region, including museums, stadiums, a concert hall and many other smaller non-transportation projects, even a restaurant and a boxing venue.

Much of the money went to politically connected recipients, with the Pennsylvania and New Jersey contingents on the DRPA board getting equal amounts to spend.

Under pressure to focus instead on its transportation mission, and more than $1 billion in debt, the agency brought an end to its nontransportation spending two years ago.

One of the loans that the Inquirer said is under scrutiny was for the redevelopment of a former RCA building in Camden into apartments overlooking the Delaware River and Philadelphia skyline. The developer of the historic “Nipper building” got $3 million for the project but so far has not made any payments on the loan, which stated his obligation to make payments was limited to “available cash flow.”


(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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