CARLISLE, Pa. — Channel 11 has obtained a secret agreement that shows the health secretary allowed a car show near Harrisburg to go on allowing 20,000 people in per day.
Reporter Amy Marcinkiewicz broke the story Monday. She got a copy of the secret agreement on Tuesday and is getting reaction from lawmakers who had no idea this happened.
Two of the three lawmakers that Channel 11 talked with had not even heard of this secret agreement until we told them about it. “Outrageous,” “ridiculous,” and “not fair” were just some of the words they used to describe it.
“It’s not fair that eastern PA set up deals when we abide by rules,” said State Rep. Aaron Bernstein.
Bernstein, a Republican who represents portions of Beaver, Butler and Lawrence counties, heard the news from Channel 11.
“This is the first I’m hearing of it. It’s despicable,” Bernstein said.
Paperwork obtained by 11 Investigates is clearly marked as a confidential settlement agreement between health secretary Dr. Rachel Levine and the Carlisle Car Show -- a huge, outdoor event near Harrisburg.
The paperwork shows the two sides came to a discrete deal allowing the show in eastern Pennsylvania to go on even though it violated the green phase restrictions that all of Pennsylvania is supposed to be abiding by: 250 people at outdoor events; 25 people at indoor events.
The confidential agreement allowed this car show to go on for four days, letting 20,000 people in per day.
“Governor Wolf has sent a letter to local law enforcement asking them to enforce his mask mandate, yet they’re making confidential agreements to allow large congregations of people to come together. They’re talking out of both sides of their mouths,” said Butler County District Attorney Richard Goldlinger.
Leaders we talked with said Levine is the person charged with the responsibility to protect the health of Pennsylvanians. She is also the person who said in the court documents to get the car show shut down and that “holding an event anticipating 100 thousand attendees is dangerous to conduct and must be stopped.”
On Tuesday, 11 investigators asked the health secretary about the agreement.
“Any type of ongoing legal issue, you know I can’t really comment on,” is all that Levine said.
On Wednesday, 11 Investigates pressed Levine for a second day on why she let this event happen.
“I didn’t give them a pass and I understand your question about this leaving agreement which I am legally not able to talk about you can understand and respect that I can’t break a legal agreement and I can’t discuss that,” Levine said.
We tried again. Asking who else knew about the confidential deal.
“This was an agreement with the Pennsylvania Department of Health and I can’t talk about it you can keep asking me but I can’t talk about it,” Levine said.
State Rep. Chris Sainato, a Democrat representing Lawrence County, knew nothing about the agreement until 11 Investigates showed him the paperwork.
“That was surprising to me when you told me we’ve been making the sacrifices for five months,” Sainato said.
“And this is Lawrence County Fair week, of course it was canceled to comply.” Sainato said this is not about political party. He said this deal is not right.
“I don’t think it’s truly fair throughout the state. You have to play by the same rules for everywhere no matter where you are in the state,” Sainato said.
State Rep. Marci Mustello, a Republican who represents Butler County, said her district has suffered, canceling the Big Butler Fair, the Farm Show and the Saxonburg Carnival to name a few. She said taxpayers should wonder why an event near Harrisburg got the go ahead, “while the rest of us are canceling everything, graduation and birthday parties, abiding by the COVID-19. restrictions.
“I think somebody needs to explain why this agreement was allowed or even offered. So yes, it’s outrageous to even think this,” Mustello said.
11 investigates reached out to the Carlise Car Show, who told us they can’t talk about it either, saying, “We signed a confidentiality agreement as part of the settlement and have no further comment.”
11 investigates checked court dockets and found the judge in the car show case ruled within the last 24 hours that the confidential settlement agreement will be part of the public records.
Even so, Butler County leaders are at a loss for words over this whole thing.
“We’ve had events here in butler that wouldn’t have had the number of people attending that were canceled trying to comply. Yet they make the secret deals to obviously benefit them,” Goldlinger said.
Butler County leaders are wondering if they too should start defying the health department mandates, hoping an injunction brings them a discreet deal. There are still so many unanswered questions and 11 Investigates will continue to ask them until we get answers.
The governor, contacted by 11 Investigates, has not responded.
You can read the full confidential settlement agreement below:
Cox Media Group