Jim Matthews resigns as chairman amid charges that include lying to a Grand Jury
At a time when Montgomery County residents are asked to make suggestions and decisions regarding unthinkable cuts to services, a tax increase that could be as high as 28 percent or a combination of each, taxpayers now find out that the chairman of their elected commissioners, James Matthews, has been arrested on charges of lying to the Grand Jury.
What started out as a look into a possible “Sunshine Law” violation during breakfast meetings that included, at times, Commissioner’s Chairman James Matthews, Commissioner Joe Hoeffel, County Solicitor Barry Miller and Deputy Chief Operating Officer James Maza, resulted in Matthews arrest for Perjury and False Swearing.
According to a press release issued by Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman, the Grand Jury report is a culmination of an 18-month investigation into the County Commissioners.
According to the release “As a result of newspaper stories from investigative reporters surrounding the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners and civilian complaints into the Commissioners’ activities, a Grand Jury investigation was launched. From March 2010 until November 2011, the Montgomery County Investigating Grand Jury, reviewed extensive evidence including testimony from numerous witnesses, who provided unique and specified knowledge into the subject matters at hand. They examined evidence regarding non-public meetings held between two of the County Commissioners where County business was discussed; potentially improper use of campaign funds by Commissioners; lapse in County procedures regarding contract bidding and the Open Space Program; and a potential Conflict of Interest violation by one Commissioner.”
Initially Matthews and Hoeffel had denied that the meetings were “anything but social in nature.”
The release went on to report that “The Montgomery County Investigating Grand Jury issued a sealed report of their findings on November 16, 2011. The report was reviewed and unsealed by the Supervising Judge of the Grand Jury, the Honorable William J. Furber on December 5, 2011.
“The Grand Jury found that there were non-public, pre-arranged meetings between Chairman of the Board of Commissioners, James Matthews and Commissioner Joseph Hoeffel outside the presence of Commissioner Bruce Castor. The County Solicitor, Barry Miller and the Deputy Chief Operating Officer, James Maza would also attend these meetings. The Grand Jury found that while these meetings appeared to be improper, there was insufficient evidence to show that deliberations occurred, as required by the Sunshine Act. Despite finding no violation of law, the Grand Jury stated in its report “we feel that Montgomery County citizens have the right to expect transparency from their representatives.” They made several recommendations to the State Legislature to change the punishment for the Act in order to discourage elected officials from these type of meetings.”
While the inquiry into campaign expenditures of the Commissioners was halted during the investigation because the State Law was too vague and the potentially applicable federal law was changed during the course of the investigation, the Grand Jury did find that Matthews made several disturbing expenditures, including paying $57,000 worth of expenditures to his personal credit card and $20,000 worth to his personal vehicle. In its report, the Grand Jury made recommendations to both the Federal and State legislature to change the laws surrounding campaign expenditures.
The Grand Jury also found deficiencies in the way the County administers their Open Space Program. They found that “currently those entrusted with making decisions for the County on spending millions of our dollars are doing so carelessly and without any written guidance that we are able to refer to.” This behavior did not rise to the level of criminality but the Grand Jury made recommendations to the County in order to establish a procedure which would ensure that the Program was being run properly.
The County’s competitive bidding process, known as the “Request For Proposal (RFP) policy” came under scrutiny as the Grand Jurors found the process currently utilized by the County does not promote competition. They find that the lapse in the RFP process constituted a crime, the Grand Jury made several recommendations to the County to improve this process.
The district attorney went on to state that the Grand Jury examined a business relationship between Commissioner Matthews and Certified Abstract Company, who had been contracted to do the County’s title work. The Grand Jury did not find sufficient evidence to show that there was an improper relationship between the two. However, it was during the course of this inquiry that the Grand Jury discovered that Matthews made misrepresentations on a Statement of Financial Interest, a form required by law to be completed by all elected officials.
In examining this business relationship, the Grand Jury subpoenaed Matthews to provide sworn testimony on October 5, 2011. The Grand Jury found that Matthews lied on several occasions during the course of his sworn testimony before the Grand Jury. In its report, the Grand Jury recommended to the district attorney that Matthews be charged with Perjury and False Swearing. In addition, they issued a Presentment, which detailed the multiple lies that Matthews made during the course of his testimony and asked the District Attorney, once again, to charge him with Perjury and False Swearing. The Grand Jury found that “Matthews lied with such ease and frequency that he acted as though, as Chairman of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, he is above the law.”
Matthews was arraigned before Magisterial District Judge Margaret Hunsicker on Tuesday morning and released on $50,000 bail.
This case will be prosecuted by the Captain of the Grand Jury and Public Corruption Units, John Gradel and Special Assistant District Attorney Antonetta Stancu.
Matthews resigned as Chairman of the Commissioners on Tuesday morning. However he has indicated that he will serve the remainder of his term which expires in less than a month. Matthews, who served for the past 12 years, did not seek re-election this year.
A preliminary hearing has been scheduled for Dec. 16.