Illegal Pipeline Security Group Walks Again

Illegal Pipeline Security Group Walks Again

A once-touted Mariner East pipeline bribery case is poised to end with no convictions

More than 14 months ago, then-Chester County District Attorney Thomas P. Hogan unveiled what he called “a pretty simple case” of corruption and bribery involving elected law enforcement officers and the controversial Mariner East pipeline.

In a sweeping criminal complaint, Hogan accused a Sunoco executive and four security contractors of paying 19 state constables more than $230,000 over two years to improperly patrol the pipeline route while wearing their uniforms and carrying firearms to act “as a deterrent” to residents and activists who have opposed it. Hogan’s indictment drew national attention, not only for its targeting of the multimillion-dollar project but for the accusations lobbed against an energy giant.

But a county judge’s ruling this week against the final two defendants in the bribery case signaled it could end with an unexpected outcome: not a single criminal conviction.

Judge Edward Griffin on Tuesday ruled that the remaining defendants, Michael Boffo, 60, and Nikolas McKinnon, 40, could enter an advanced rehabilitative diversion program for first-time offenders. Both had been charged with conspiracy, bribery, and related offenses; those charges will be dismissed once they complete the program.

In his 2019 court filing, Hogan asserted that Boffo and McKinnon — executives with TigerSwan LLC, a security consulting firm that works with pipeline companies — illegally hired the constables, who are elected officials paid by the county courts, and obscured their payments from public oversight in a “buy-a-badge scheme.”

“This is a pretty simple case,” Hogan said at the time. “State constables sold their badges and official authority. Energy Transfer [Partners, Sunoco’s parent company] bought those badges and authority, then used them as a weapon to intimidate citizens.” In one case, Hogan said, a journalist recording video along the pipeline route in West Whiteland Township was confronted by a uniform-wearing constable who told him to stop.

Five people connected to Energy Transfer Partners’ Mariner East pipeline project face criminal charges: (from left) Richard Lester, Frank Recknagel, James Murphy, Michael Boffo, and Nikolas McKinnon.Courtesy Chester County District Attorney’s office

Hogan also charged Frank Recknagel, the head of security for Sunoco’s pipeline division, as well as James Murphy, the operator of the security firm Raven Knights, accusing them of orchestrating the scheme to hire the constables and hide payments to them.

Two of the three other defendants had their charges dismissed in the last eight months, and a third died before facing a judge.

Neither Hogan nor his successor ever identified the 17 other constables they alleged also were paid by Sunoco.

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