CHESTER COUNTY — The Chester County District Attorney’s Office announced Thursday that two state constables have been arrested for illegally using their elected positions and authority for personal profit working on the Mariner East Pipeline.
Michael Robel, 58, of Shamokin, and Kareem Johnson, 47, of Coatesville, have both been charged with official oppression, Ethics Act violations, and bribery, according to Chester County DA Tom Hogan.
Robel is a constable in Northumberland County, while Johnson serves as a constable in Chester County, according to Charles Gaza, Hogan’s Chief of Staff.
“We cannot have elected law enforcement officials hiring themselves out and using their public positions for personal profit,” Gaza said in a press release. “It undermines the integrity and independence of law enforcement and our government.”
In criminal complaints against both men, the Chester County District Attorney’s Office alleges the following facts:
- State constables are elected officials in Pennsylvania. They are responsible for preserving the peace at polling places during elections. They are authorized by statute to serve arrest warrants and various forms of civil process, transport criminal defendants for court purposes, serve as courtroom security, and make arrests in limited circumstances, along with a variety of other conduct directly related to those functions.
- They are paid by the courts at rates and in manners codified by statute.
- As elected officials, they are obligated by the Public Official and Employee Ethics Act to file annually a statement of financial interest containing, among other things, the name and address of any source of income in the amount of $1,300 or more.
- The Ethics Act further prohibits the use of office of State Constable for the constable’s private financial benefit.
- In December 2018, the Chester County DA’s Office opened an investigation into activity related to the construction of the Mariner East Pipeline in Chester County by Energy Transfer, L.P. and subsidiaries Sunoco Logistics and Sunoco Pipeline, L.P.
- Investigators learned that state constables were being hired to use their authority as elected law enforcement officials for private security interests. Chester County residents reported that armed security guards identifying themselves as constables while on a homeowner’s property.
- On Jan. 21, a plainclothes detective conducting an investigation parked on Lisa Drive in West Whiteland Township. A man, later identified as Robel, approached the detective’s vehicle, identified himself as a state constable, and informed the detective he could not park in the area. Robel was wearing a patrol-style duty belt with a firearm and displayed his Pennsylvania state constable badge. He told the detective he was from Northumberland County and was employed by Sunoco.
- Daniel Zegart, a journalist, told investigators that on June 5, 2018, he was parked on Lisa Drive writing notes for a story when he encountered Johnson, who informed him he was a state constable and ordered him not to step off the street. Zegart recorded the encounter on his cell phone. Johnson is seen wearing a hard hat, neon construction vest, and a polo shirt that appears to have a state seal on it.
- Investigation revealed Robel and Johnson were subcontracted to work security by a Harrisburg company doing business as Raven Knights, which recruited them and asked them to provide copies of their state constable certification cards and firearm cards as a condition of employment.
- Bank records revealed Robel was paid $27,995 from 2018 through 2019 for his work as a private security contractor for Sunoco Pipeline in Chester County.
- Johnson was paid $36,785 in 2018 for his work as private security in Chester County, bank records show. Johnson failed to report this income on a Statement of Financial Interests Form that year, as required by the Ethics Act.
Robel and Johnson were arrested Thursday morning after turning themselves in, according to the DA’s office. Bail was set at $25,000 each after they were arraigned. Both face preliminary hearings on August 29.
The investigation of the Mariner East Pipeline project in Chester County is ongoing, the DA’s office says.