Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Bethlehem Township to Settle Litigation Against Financial Advisers Who Recommended Streetlight Scam
In 2007, Bethlehem Township financial adviser, Reading-based Concord Public Finance, recommended that the Township buy its street lights from PPL through another firm, Municipal Energy Management, Inc. This firm would then shop around for the lowest electricity rates. Through Concord, the Township borrowed $1.2 million, and paid MEM $832,460 for a "fast track purchase."
But after two years of stonewalling from MEM, the Bethlehem law firm of Broughal and DeVito was hired as the Township's new Solicitors. That firm learned from PPL that the Township borrowed over one million dollars for a project that would only cost $271,180.
Bethlehem Township sued MEM in 2010. Through the discovery process, Township lawyers learned that MEM principals Robert J. Kearns and Patrick J. "PJ" McLaine spent most of the money to support their own lavish lifestyles. The matter was turned over to District Attorney John Morganelli.
In February, a grand jury indictment charged Kearns and McLaine with felony theft, misapplication of entrusted property and felony conspiracy. Their trial is scheduled for January.
Township officials also sued Concord for giving bad financial advice. In addition to the $832,460 paid to MEM, the Township paid $15,000 to Concord following a presentation by Christopher Gibbons, an employee and part-owner of Concord. According to the Township complaint, Concord never verified the financial information provided by MEM and did nothing to ensure that the $832,460 entrusted to MEM would only be used for its intended purpose.
In addition to being Bethlehem Township's financial adviser, Concord's website indicates that it has had numerous local municipal clients, including Bethlehem, Easton, Whitehall, North Whitehall, South Whitehall, Upper Saucon and Bethlehem Parking Authority.
Concord is the firm that recommended Northampton County enter into a swaption scheme that ended up costing $25 million. Concord also recommended Easton to re-finance $24 million in pension bonds, According to Mayor Sal Panto, they are non-callable bonds. "So now the city is stuck paying back these bonds at better than 7% when we can be borrowing money today at 3% and less," complains Panto.
In addition to dispensing financial advice, Concord's Christopher Gibbons is known for dispensing campaign cash to candidates seeking office. According to the state campaign finance website, he's handed out $22,060 over the past 12 years to office seekers, including Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan and former Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham.