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DRPA pays commissioners' law firms to represent them

The Delaware River Port Authority has paid about $72,500 this year to the law firms of two DRPA commissioners to represent the pair in an ongoing federal grand jury investigation.

Board member William R. Sasso. His firm billed the agency $70,045 for 292 hours of work.
Board member William R. Sasso. His firm billed the agency $70,045 for 292 hours of work.Read more

The Delaware River Port Authority has paid about $72,500 this year to the law firms of two DRPA commissioners to represent the pair in an ongoing federal grand jury investigation.

The two commissioners, William Sasso and Jeffrey L. Nash, were among several DRPA officials subpoenaed late last year by the grand jury that is investigating millions of dollars of politically connected "economic development" spending by the DRPA.

Sasso and Nash, both attorneys, were permitted by the DRPA board to be represented by their own law firms, at DRPA expense.

Sasso's firm, Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young, was paid $70,045 for 292 hours of work on his behalf.

Nash's firm, Cozen O'Connor, billed DRPA $2,400 for 9.6 hours of work.

The work for both commissioners was billed at the DRPA maximum for legal services: $250 an hour. (The DRPA paid slightly less than Stradley Ronon billed.)

The invoices, obtained by The Inquirer through a Right-to-Know request, indicate that the U.S. Attorney's Office in Philadelphia was interested in documents and interviews detailing the DRPA's spending on economic development projects.

Sasso, the chairman of Stradley Ronon, was interviewed by an assistant U.S. attorney for 90 minutes in March, the billings show.

In all, five Stradley Ronon attorneys prepared documents and prepared Sasso for his interview, largely during January, February and March, the billings show.

"We wanted to make sure the U.S. attorney got everything he wanted," Sasso said Tuesday.

Sasso was appointed to the bistate DRPA by Gov. Corbett in 2011, after most of the economic development funds had been spent. He chairs the agency's operations and maintenance committee, and has been openly critical of some of the economic development deals struck by the DRPA before his arrival.

Nash, a Camden County freeholder who is vice chairman of the DRPA, was represented by two attorneys at Cozen in December, February and April, the billings show.

His attorneys reviewed documents, conducted a phone conversation with an assistant U.S. attorney, and attended a meeting with the legal firm representing the DRPA board, Duane Morris.

Nash did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Details on two items were redacted from the billings for Sasso and two from the billings for Nash. The commissioners cited attorney-client privilege for deleting that information from the copies provided to The Inquirer.

In addition to paying the legal bills for Sasso and Nash, the DRPA is paying white-collar criminal defense attorney Michael M. Mustokoff $350 an hour to represent the board in the grand jury investigation, which has been underway since April 2013. The DRPA board waived its $250-an-hour cap for Mustokoff.

In the past year, the DRPA has paid Mustokoff's firm, Duane Morris, $968,400. The payments are not all for Mustokoff and the grand jury investigation, as Duane Morris is also the bistate board's Pennsylvania legal counsel.

And the DRPA expects to spend about $900,000 on legal costs related to the grand jury investigation in 2015, according to its proposed budget for next year.

The DRPA, which operates four toll bridges and the PATCO commuter rail line between Philadelphia and South Jersey, gets virtually all of its revenue from bridge tolls and PATCO fares.

The agency spent nearly $500 million over 15 years on economic development projects such as museums, stadiums, a concert hall, a cancer center, the Army-Navy football game, and other nontransportation projects.

Much of that economic development money went to politically influential recipients, as the Pennsylvania and New Jersey delegations on the DRPA board got equal amounts to spend. Fourteen of the 16 board members are appointed by the governors of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Two Pennsylvania members - the state treasurer and auditor general - are on the board by virtue of their elected offices.

In 2012, New Jersey Comptroller Matthew Boxer issued a report critical of cronyism and mismanagement at the DRPA, saying that "in nearly every area we looked at, we found people who treated the DRPA like a personal ATM, from DRPA commissioners to private vendors to community organizations."

Economic development spending by the DRPA has long been controversial, as it contributed to a $1.5 billion debt that now consumes about half of the agency's spending.

Motorists and some board members complained that the DRPA should not spend money on nontransportation projects while borrowing hundreds of millions to maintain its bridges and rail line.

The DRPA board voted repeatedly to end the practice. It spent a final $20 million in December 2011, selecting recipients for the last available money.

Since then, the only economic development spending has been on projects approved before the last of the money was committed in 2011.