Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Ex-Rendell top aide disbarred after guilty plea in FBI sting

One of former Gov. Ed Rendell's top aides, who pleaded guilty last May to one count of wire fraud after being caught up in an FBI sting, has agreed to be disbarred, the state Supreme Court's disciplinary board said Thursday.

John H. Estey, 54, a lawyer from Ardmore, will be disbarred as of March 25, the board said.

Estey's attorney, Ronald H. Levine, said Thursday, "He voluntarily relinquished his license." Levine said he would have no further comment.

Estey pleaded guilty in federal court in Harrisburg on May 10 to one count of wire fraud committed in 2011, when he was snared in an investigation in which FBI agents posed as businessmen seeking influence with state legislators.

According to court filings, the FBI set up a phony business in 2009 to "investigate allegations of public corruption in Pennsylvania." The fake firm hired Estey and a top Harrisburg lobbying firm to help it obtain legislation to benefit its business, and made campaign contributions to further its goals.

Undercover agents gave Estey $20,000 that he promised he would pass along as campaign contributions in his name, circumventing state laws that ban corporate gifts and the use of lobbyists as "pass-throughs." Estey kept $13,000 of that money for himself, according to court records. Which lawmakers received shares of the $7,000 was unclear. Prosecutors did not disclose that in the plea documents.

The Inquirer has reported that Estey has been secretly cooperating with federal authorities, possibly for years, and wore a digital device to record his conversations for the agents as he traveled in the state's political, legal, and business circles.

Estey faces an April 11 sentencing hearing in Harrisburg. Although he could receive a maximum term of 20 years in prison under the law, guidelines call for a sentence of probation to six months, reflecting his cooperation and the relatively small amount of money involved.

In the late 1990s, Estey served as deputy chief of staff to then-Philadelphia Mayor Rendell. When Rendell became governor in 2003, Estey became his chief of staff.

Estey has also served as chairman of the Delaware River Port Authority, the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority, and the Independence Visitor Center. He was an executive at the Hershey Trust Co., but was fired last year after federal prosecutors made public their criminal case against him.