The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

June 2, 2013

The Big Swoop

By Gary Grossman
The Daily Item

— When they got to speeches in February last year, Gov. Tom Corbett and Brian Bolus were on a first name basis, or at least the governor was as he plugged the gumption-to-riches Life of Brian into his administration’s fracking-friendly narrative.

Twenty-two years ago, the governor related, Brian was just a college kid driving a tow truck, with an American dream in his heart and an eye out for opportunity.

Gov. Corbett, who was whacking public education money from his budgets, seized the occasion to spotlight how many certified teachers Pennsylvania state universities produce every year compared to how few of them were actually needed.

What Pennsylvania needed, the governor explained, were entrepreneurial job-creators like Brian here, owner of Minuteman Environmental Services.

Minuteman Environmental Service’s rise was at full meteor then ­– $5 million and climbing with 158 employees and a sparkling garage in the Milton Industrial Park full of heavy-duty capital investment in tank trucks, vacuum trucks, roll-off trucks, frack and mud tanks, and hazmat and emergency response capabilities – including, outside somewhere, a helicopter.

Minuteman trucks water to Marcellus Shale drilling sites and hauls off frack gunk. It specializes in spill cleanup, waste disposal and site restoration.

Minuteman has the services. But Tom Corbett created the environment.

The possibility and profitability of Minuteman flourished in the political economy shaped by a first-term governor with unemployment in double digits and only shale gas in his pocket.

Gov. Corbett wanted job-creation on a fast track, uninhibited by extraction taxes, impact fees, zealous inspectors or bothersome regulation. Drilling had a four-to-one ratio in downstream jobs like those Brian Bolus was creating.

So when the big swoop happened early Wednesday morning and armed, black-uniformed agents from all over the alphabet plowed through Minuteman’s offices, Brian Bolus’s home and Brian Bolus’s tech services in search of evidence, we asked if the Governor knew what was happening to his partner.

No clue, said his spokesperson.

From buddy of the month and business of the year to no clue during a government raid.

The drama staged in Milton and Lewisburg was directed by Tom Corbett’s old haunt, the Attorney General’s office – now held by Kathleen Kane, whose election outpolled President Obama last November in what has been interpreted as “a message to the boys in Harrisburg” that there is a “new sheriff in town.”

The “sheriffs” already in town, state police troopers headquartered a stone’s throw from the action, had no idea the outside enforcers were coming until civilians dialed in, asking why men with guns were crawling the neighborhood.

General Kane’s raid on Minuteman was her most audacious step so far on a road many believe leads to the governor’s office – which may explain Tom Corbett’s unawareness and the reason his state troopers were iced out.

A cone of silence around a raid, as agents were still tossing offices, was standard and, in some respects, wise.

An independent witness in the Bolus home reported that agents handcuffed Mrs. Bolus on the floor next to her 8-year-old son after she said she wanted to take the boy to school.

That was not wise.

That was heavy-handed. It is one thing to toss an office, quite another to toss a mom. With their investment in resources, the authorities were always going to find something. Now, they had to come up with something big.

In a letter to customers, Brian Bolus said they won’t.

“We will be vindicated,” he wrote. “I have done nothing improper, let alone illegal. I hope that during our business relationship we have earned your trust and good will.”

This story is in the stage where everyone (including me) drags a few facts through preconceived notions.

That afternoon more than a year ago, Brian Bolus, his wife Karen and their son Preston looked like a nice young family, turning a good idea at a lucky time into wealth for themselves and their neighbors.

Because civic socialization predisposes us to prefer that portrait, it would be reassuring if it held true. 

But in a our political economy, business people find themselves in bed with politicians and you just never know who they have been with last and who they will be with next.