Last Wednesday afternoon, District Attorney Jack Whelan announced the arrest of, and laid out a list of charges against, longtime Upland Councilman Ed Mitchell, 73, including illegal wiretaps, felony theft offenses for receiving up to $133,000 in kickbacks for covert recording devices, cameras and security systems installed at inflated costs throughout Upland Borough Hall.
Whelan called it a flagrant violation of public trust, but to former high ranking officials, the charges don’t match up to the Mitchell they know.
One longtime family friend, who asked not to be identified, said Mitchell had no motive to steal money.
“Look, this guy and his wife are comfortable,” the friend said. “Between his pensions, his Social Security, her compensation as the borough’s tax collector, and her Social Security, they’re pulling down maybe $150,000-a-year. There was no need for him to steal money, much less create a whole elaborate scheme. This has got to be somebody’s bulls—.””
“This whole thing is politics at its worst,” said former Chester Police Commissioner Joseph Bail who retired in October 2015. Bail speaks of having the “good fortune” to be acquainted with Mitchell for 35 years and more closely over the last five.
“He’s one of the most candid, un-disguisable, credible men I know. He’s a very direct person. This whole thing is politics at its worst. I was in law enforcement for 45 years and I’ve worked political corruption cases and testified for the government. This is politics at its very worst. It’s horrible. I’ve known Ed to be nothing but credible. What you see is what you get.”
Among those surprised at the charges were recently retired Chester Fire Commissioner James L. “Jimmie” Johnson, who was commissioner from 2002 to 2016 and held every rank in the department in his 37-year career in addition to working as a police officer in Chester Township.
“Ed has always been an upright political leader. His mind’s eye has always been what benefits the residents of his community. He’s always been committed to their safety, well-being, and efficient borough operations. His reputation in the community is good. He’s a no-nonsense guy. He’s certainly been, in my opinion, a stalwart of the public trust,” said Johnson.
Others lauded Mitchell’s contributions to education including establishing a program with Chester-Upland School District and Delaware County Community College where 12th graders could take satellite courses to earn college credits. Mitchell also was an integral part of establishing the Village Charter School in Chester in 1998.
“He has a heart for kids,” said Bail.
“I’ve always found him to be an honest guy, a straight shooter. I’ve never heard of him being involved in (any)thing underhanded. It’s not his style,” said Garland Thompson, a former editor of The Philadelphia Tribune who joined the charter school board and drew up the technology plan during its inception.
Former Chester Mayor John Linder also knows Mitchell through interactions on educational issues. He praised Mitchell’s work with the charter school, forming a relationship with the community and being a tireless advocate for students and their parents, especially children with special needs.
“He’s always been very active with the best interests of children and their parents. He helped create positive outcomes for the students,” said Linder, who has known Mitchell over 40 years. “His contributions have been mammoth in terms of education and advocacy in his school district. I’m proud to have worked with him.”
Mitchell, of Fourth Road in Upland, and Thomas Willard, owner of Eddystone-based Logan Technology Solutions (LTS) who faces similar charges, surrendered at the Delaware County Criminal Investigation Division headquarters. Both men were escorted from the Delaware County Courthouse in handcuffs, declined comment and were later released on bail.
“Ed has served Upland Borough honorably. He’s a veteran and denies any and all allegations against him and is looking forward to his day in court,” said John Flannery, Mitchell’s attorney.
“We look at elected officials as individuals who should be held to a higher standard of conduct. Ed Mitchell, on at least three separate occasions, put his hand on the Bible and swears to support, obey and defend the Constitution of the United States, the Constitution of the Commonwealth, and also the laws of the Borough of Upland. He violated all of that. It’s no wonder I present this to you with disgust and outrage that an elected official would go to this length to benefit himself” said Whelan during a press conference announcing the arrests.
Mitchell formed a relationship with Willard in early 2009 shortly after his 2008 election. He contracted LTS to produce security systems, fire alarms and key fobs for borough buildings.
The relationship veered into conspiratorial, said Whelan, when Mitchell presented the idea for the rip-off which included kickbacks of 10-15 percent for him on every borough invoice generated by LTS which inflated the cost of equipment by 30-50 percent of fair market value.
Between 2009 and 2015, LTS, said Whelan, billed the borough nearly $1 million, of which, $755,000 was taken by Willard to a check cashing agency in Delaware County. A former employee associated with Willard indicated on at least one occasion he delivered a $5,000 envelope in cash to Mitchell’s home, according to Whelan.
Investigators contend that Mitchell subverted public contract bidding regulations by advising Willard to keep invoices below $10,000 and to bill separately. In a further bizarre twist, Whelan said, then-Upland Police Chief Nelson Ocasio ordered four police dashboard cameras with Mitchell’s approval from LTS but the cameras never arrived so Mitchell told Willard to report them missing and to submit another invoice for replacements. The borough paid for, but never received, the cameras, Whelan said.
Mitchell, according to Whelan, told Ocasio not investigate the missing dashboard cameras because it would be embarrassing for Upland that the cameras were gone. Ocasio has been suspended for months in an unrelated matter.
The arrest came at the conclusion of an investigation conducted by the D.A.’s Economic Crime Unit which began March 3, 2016 when Det. Bob Lythgoe got a text message from Upland Borough Mayor Michael Ciach saying he discovered a covert camera system installed in the municipal building which had been disguised as motion sensors for the building alarm systems. The same day, two detectives took possession of the DVR and three motion senor detector cameras that were connected to the DVR.
Whelan said Ciach met with him and expressed concerns about a few issues in the borough including the missing dashboard cameras which led to a further investigation.
In a tumultuous year for Upland Borough officials, Mitchell was ousted as Council president in January but remained a member and has indicated through his attorney he has no intentions to resign, despite a suggestion from Whelan that he do.
Ocasio was “suspended” from his job early in the year following the arrest and subsequent clearing of Mitchell’s successor Christine Peterson, who also works as the police secretary, on allegations she tampered with public records in a time-card scandal for which Ocasio is still suspended.