The operator of a private security firm that hired state constables to patrol the controversial Mariner East Pipeline in what prosecutors called an illegal “buy-a-badge scheme” has been acquitted of bribery and related charges.

James Murphy, 62, was charged along with four other men in late 2019 by then-District Attorney Thomas P. Hogan, who said the group improperly employed state constables at points along the pipeline. The constables, Hogan said at the time, were violating their state-given authority by acting as private security, and the executives who hired them tried to obscure their payments to them.

» READ MORE: Mariner East pipeline employees, contractors illegally paid state constables in ‘buy-a-badge scheme,’ DA says

But during after a hearing late Thursday, Chester County Court Judge Jeffrey R. Sommer ruled that prosecutors failed to provide evidence that Murphy was guilty of any wrongdoing by hiring the constables at the direction of his superiors.

Murphy runs Raven Knights, a private security firm that contracted with Energy Transfer Partners, the pipeline builder, to hire the constables. Raven Knight’s owner, Richard Lester, also faced criminal charges before his death in September.

Murphy’s exoneration comes months after another of his co-defendants, Frank Recknagel, had his case dismissed by a magisterial district court judge on similar grounds.

» READ MORE: A criminal case over the Mariner East pipeline raises questions about the role of constables in Pennsylvania

The remaining two defendants, Michael Boffo and Nikolas McKinnon, are scheduled to appear for a hearing in the case on Jan. 26 at the Chester County Justice Center in West Chester.