A longtime Delaware County borough official took kickbacks and had surveillance equipment installed in the council chambers as part of a "flagrant" scheme that ended with his arrest Wednesday, District Attorney John J. Whelan said.
Edward Mitchell, 73, former Upland council president, faces felony charges, as does Thomas Herman Patrick Willard, 61, a security vendor from Downingtown, who paid Mitchell up to $133,000 in kickbacks and installed surveillance systems for the councilman at Borough Hall, Whelan said.
Willard, owner of Logan Technology Solutions Inc., billed Upland for about $1 million worth of security equipment and gave a cut to Mitchell, authorities said. The arrangement skirted state bidding laws because Logan billed the borough for several years in increments under $10,000.
Both men also were behind the installation of disguised camera and microphone equipment in council chambers starting in about 2013, Whelan said.
Whelan said his investigators, who began their probe this year, were shocked to discover that even they were recorded while conducting interviews in Borough Hall. The investigators realized this after confiscating the security system and reviewing the video, Whelan said.
"It's an outrage when you look at the covert operations," Whelan said at the county courthouse in Media. "It's so offensive to see an elected official lining their own pockets with the money from the taxpayers."
Mitchell, who left the courthouse in handcuffs, maintained his innocence through his attorney, Ed Flannery, who said his client would fight the charges. Willard also declined to answer questions.
The vendor had installed small microphones and cameras disguised as motion sensors in council chambers and an office area where a secretary was stationed.
"We don't have a reason as to what he intended to do with the intercepted communications," Whelan said. "That's still under investigation."
The spying system and the kickbacks allegedly grew from an agreement Mitchell struck with Willard soon after the councilman began his first term, in 2009, Whelan said.
Mitchell arranged to send borough security-system work Willard's way in return for cash payments totaling 10 percent to 15 percent of each invoice billed to the borough, authorities said.
Whelan said it appeared that Mitchell used the kickback cash to cover personal expenses.
The prosecutor characterized the felony theft charges, the alleged violation of Pennsylvania's wiretap law, and the ethics violations as "flagrant" and outrageous.
It was additionally "disturbing," he said, to hear investigators' own voices captured in recordings.
"Anybody that went into that office, into that area where those microphones were, was being recorded," Whelan said.
The microphones were so sensitive they picked up conversations in other rooms, he said.
Prosecutors said Mitchell approached Willard with the idea for kickbacks. By having Willard bill the borough in increments smaller than $10,000. state law requiring solicitations of additional bidders would not apply, Whelan said.
In all, Willard's company billed Upland for nearly $1 million at inflated costs, then routed cash payments to Mitchell, authorities said.
But in one case - involving $30,000 paid for four police dashboard cameras - the borough never received the equipment. And the then-police chief, Nelson Ocasio, looked the other way, Whelan said.
Mitchell had urged the chief to stand down for fear of embarrassing the borough with such a probe, Whelan said.
Investigators questioned Ocasio - who has been suspended for months in an unrelated matter - but Whelan said he would not comment on whether the former chief remained under active investigation.
County officials launched their probe after Mayor Michael Ciach reached out by text message in March to tell them about the suspected surveillance system, Whelan said.