CHESTER COUNTY, Pa. (CBS) — Two Pennsylvania constables have been arrested after prosecutors say they improperly used their elected positions for personal profit while working security on the Mariner East Pipeline. The Chester County District Attorney’s Office announced the arrests of 47-year-old Kareem Johnson, a constable in Coatesville, and 58-year-old Michael Robel, a constable in Northumberland County, on Thursday.
Prosecutors say Johnson and Robel were hired by a Harrisburg-based company called Raven Knights as private security guards along the construction area of the Mariner East Pipeline in Chester.
The Chester County District Attorney’s Office opened a criminal investigation in connection to the Mariner East Pipeline project in December 2018. Investigators say Chester County residents reported that armed security guards identified themselves as state constables on their property.
On Jan. 21, officials say a plainclothes detective was investigating an incident on Lisa Drive in West Whiteland Township when Robel approached his parked vehicle on a public street and identified himself as a state constable. Robel then told the officer that he could not be parked in the area.
Robel was wearing a patrol-style duty belt with a firearm and showed the detective his state constable badge, officials say. He told the detective that he was from Northumberland County and was employed by Sunoco.
The investigation found that on June 5, 2018, Daniel Zegart, a journalist, was parked on Lisa Drive working on a story when he was photographed by a pipeline worker. Investigators say Zegart recorded the incident on his cellphone and was told to speak to an individual the worker said was a state constable.
Zegart made contact with the man, who was wearing a hard hat, construction vest and displaying a badge and polo shirt appearing to have the state seal on it. The constable told Zegart to get off the street. Investigators later confirmed that the constable in Zegart’s video was Johnson.
Johnson and Robel failed to report thousands of dollars in income for their work on the Sunoco Pipeline project. Officials say Johnson earned $36,785 for his work and Robel made $27,995 in 2018 for their work on the project. Both failed to report the income as required under the state’s Ethics Act.
“We cannot have elected law enforcement officials hiring themselves out and using their public positions for person profit,” Chester County District Attorney Chief of Staff Charles Gaza said. “It undermines the integrity and independence of law enforcement and our government.”
Johnson and Robel have been charged with official oppression, Ethics Act violations and other related offenses.
The investigation of the Mariner East Pipeline construction remains active and ongoing.
“There is a troubling aspect to this investigation that bears note,” Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan said. “The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is charged with protecting Pennsylvania residents. However DEP and has retained criminal defense lawyers to represent them in this investigation and have insisted that all communications go through those lawyers.
“Imagine if the West Chester Police Department was investigating a burglary with the DAO but retained criminal defense lawyers to represent the police department and would only communicate with the DAO through the defense lawyers. In almost 30 years working in the criminal justice system, I have never seen a state or federal agency retain criminal defense lawyers to communicate with the prosecutors that the agencies were supposed to be helping.”