John Estey, Rendell’s Former Chief-of-Staff, Charged With Wire Fraud

Estey has agreed to plead guilty.

Pennsylvania's first lady, Midge Rendell, left; Gov. Ed Rendell's chief of staff John Estey, center; and budget secretary Mike Masch applaud as Gov. Ed Rendell enters to deliver his yearly state budget address to a joint session of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and Senate at the Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2007. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

On Feb 6., 2007, Gov. Ed Rendell’s then-chief-of-staff John Estey (center) applauded as Rendell entered to deliver his yearly state budget address. | Photo by Carolyn Kaster/AP

(Editor’s Note: This is a breaking story. Check back for updates.)

John Estey, a Philadelphia lawyer and onetime chief-of-staff to former Gov. Ed Rendell, was charged with illegal wire fraud in federal court Friday. He has agreed to plead guilty.

In 2011, shortly after Rendell left office, Estey used a lobbying firm he had created as an illegal pass-through entity for campaign contributions from a corporation to Pennsylvania legislators, according to the charges. Estey agreed to give the corporation’s contributions to lawmakers, and suggested to the corporation that the money was necessary “to gain access to, and the attention of, legislators and to facilitate legislative action, or inaction” favorable to the corporation, according to the charges, signed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Consiglio.

Officials said the corporation seeking to make the contributions was actually an undercover entity created by federal investigators looking into public corruption. Moreover, after soliciting $20,000 that he said he would pass through to lawmakers, Estey kept $13,000 for himself, according to the charges.

“The only thing I can say is that Mr. Estey is sorry about his mistakes,” said Ron Levine, Estey’s attorney. “He has worked to resolve this with the government and wants to move forward with his life.”

Estey was Rendell’s chief-of-staff from 2003 to 2007. He was later caught up in a scandal involving the development of the city’s new Family Court and $200 million in state money. As a lawyer paid by the court system to review the development deal, Estey failed to disclose that a key player in the project had a clear conflict of interest: Jeffrey Rotwitt was working as both a representative of the court and a partner in the development team, according to reports in the Inquirer.

Estey previously served as board chair for both the Delaware River Port Authority and the Independence Visitor Center.

He was also treasurer of The Enterprise Fund, a PAC that donated $125,000 to former state treasurer Rob McCord after McCord lost his bid for governor in 2014. McCord later agreed to plead guilty to extortion, having been caught on tape trying to squeeze campaign money out of political donors. An Inquirer investigation revealed this week that McCord wore a wire in cooperation with a federal investigation before acknowledging the charges and resigning from office.

The charges against Estey and McCord don’t appear to be directly linked.

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