Former Montco official agrees to fine and probation in ethics case

By Jon Campisi | Jul 18, 2012

A former suburban Philadelphia elected official, and brother of a popular national news

A former suburban Philadelphia elected official, and brother of a popular national news

show host, has agreed to fork over $12,000 as punishment for a criminal case that had been initiated against him over purported ethical lapses.

James R. Matthews, a former Montgomery County commissioner, agreed to the fine and to enter a probationary program, but didn’t admit guilt on a misdemeanor count of false swearing, according to an announcement from the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office.

As part of the agreement with prosecutors, however, Matthews, who is the brother of Hardball host Chris Matthews, will pony up the $12,000, which will go to the Freedoms Foundation of Valley Forge, a nonprofit organization that focuses on civics issues for citizens.

“Mr. Matthews is delighted with the result and looking forward to his future,” Matthews’ attorney, Matthew Haverstick, told the Philadelphia Inquirer on Tuesday. “He’s looking forward to moving on with his life.”

Matthews had been arrested late last year by county authorities following an 18-month grand jury investigation into allegations of political corruption.

He was accused of such crimes as misusing campaign contributions and steering county contracts to acquaintances.

But Matthews was never formally charged with any crimes, with the grand jury report simply stating that Matthews’ actions were clearly unethical, but not criminal.

What Matthews was eventually charged with was lying to the grand jury during his testimony about his relationship with a company that succeeded in obtaining county contracts.

A judge eventually tossed a felony perjury count against Matthews, but let stand the false swearing misdemeanor count.

In her news release, District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman said she was pleased with the case’s outcome.

“Our primary goal in this investigation was to expose and eradicate government practices that served the interests of the elected officials and not those they served,” Ferman stated. “I am satisfied that we have accomplished this goal and the best interests of our community are served by concluding this matter today.”

The news release states that in January of this year, after a new county commissioners’ board was formed following last year’s election, the new leadership, which includes former state Rep. Josh Shapiro, used the grand jury report against Matthews as a “roadmap to identify areas of critical reform.”

Within the first six months of the new county administration, the statement says, the commissioners adopted nearly every recommendation made by the “dedicated citizens who served on the Grand Jury and addressed other issues raised by their investigation.”

The recommendations included changes to the county’s procurement and purchasing policies, changes in ethics policies and changes in human resources policies.

In addition to the $12,000 fine, Matthews agreed to pay the cost of his prosecution.

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