In February 2012, with his budget plan and his favorable treatment of the fracking industry under attack, Gov. Corbett traveled up the Susquehanna River to Milton, Pa, to tout his vision of what the Pennsylvania economy could be -- by hailing the opening of a new facility for a company that supplies water to fracking rigs and hauls away drilling waste.
"This is an American success story," Corbett said of the firm, Minuteman Environmental Services, as the company owner, Brian Bolus, and his wife and then-7year-old son beamed at his side (pictured above). "We want to see more of that across Pennsylvania."
But yesterday, Corbett's vision of the American dream became a nightmare as FBI agents and other law enforcement officials descended on the central Pennsylvania plant in a surprise raid. According to local news accounts and a statement put out today by the company, the agents bound some Minuteman workers in plastic cuffs, also handcuffed Bolus' wife Karen in front of their son, interviewed incoming waste truckers and left with a huge haul of boxes of documents.
The reports said the FBI agents were joined by officers working for the state's new Democratic attorney general, Kathleen Kane, as well as the federal IRS, and the state Department of Environmental Protection; they were even aided for a time by workers from the local sewer authority. Law-enforcement agents also reportedly fanned out to Bolus' home and other companies that had done business with Minuteman. But no one is commenting on just what the agents were looking for.
The February 2012 visit was not the first tie between Corbett and the now-embattled Bolus. Over 2009 and 2010, Bolus gave $10,000 to Corbett's gubernatorial campaign, according to state records. Minuteman is also not the first company in the fracking-waste business to gain the attention of the first-term GOP governor. Corbett has been criticized for accepting $2,323 in travel gifts -- including a 2011 Rhode Island yacht vacation -- from CEO John Moran of Moran Industries, a major contributor who operated a drilling-waste transfer station in nearby Sunbury. Some accounts have described Minuteman as a Moran customer.
A Corbett press aide didn't return my email last night on whether the governor plans to return the $10,000 in Bolus contributions. Earlier, the governor's aides insisted in news accounts that the firm was vetted before last year's visit and that Minuteman posed no problems.
Perhaps, although Minuteman's environmental record is far from spotless. In 2010, the company was dinged by the state DEP for operating two transfer stations without the required permits, and it was fined $7,000. The penalty was announced on Jan. 11, 2011 -- eight days before the Corbett administration took over. Because of the boom in fracking for natural gas, Minuteman has reportedly grown rapidly from its beginnings as a firm cleaning up highway spills. Yesterday, its statement said the probe is "baseless" and it's based on "disgruntled" employees speaking to the AG's office over the last 18 months.
Local news accounts said just this November, Bolus was involved in a bizarre incident in which he claimed a woman outside his Lewisburg home asked for help with a flat tire, but instead the CEO was clubbed in the head with a tire iron. That case is still unsolved.
That pales in comparison to the mystery of yesterday's elaborate raid -- which touches a lot of hot buttons here in Pennsylvania, including a governor launching his re-election bid, a new AG from the opposing party, two federal agencies -- IRS and Justice -- that are also under fire these days, and the environmentally controversial practice of fracking.