Posted: March 14, 2006


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

After nearly a year in federal prison, Michael E. Harkins could be back in Delaware as soon as next week for a stay at a halfway house and a $10-an-hour job at the Ministry of Caring in Wilmington.

Harkins is expected to be assigned to the Plummer Community Corrections Center sometime between March 22 and March 29 and remain there perhaps as long as a month when his prison term will end, according to his lawyer Victor F. Battaglia Sr.

Harkins, 64, a former secretary of state who got himself in trouble as the high-living executive director of the Delaware River & Bay Authority, has been an inmate at the Schuykill Federal Correctional Institution, a minimum-security facility about 45 miles north of Harrisburg, Pa., since he reported there last April 25.

After spending decades at the highest reaches of Delaware politics as a Republican master strategist and deal maker, Harkins was sent to prison last March for abusing his office at the authority, which runs the Delaware Memorial Bridge and the Cape May-Lewes Ferry, by spending as much as $90,000 to entertain himself and others with private air travel, golf and basketball tickets.

His far-humbler return will include work at the Emmanuel Dining Room and the Sacred Heart Village convenience store for the Ministry of Caring, the well-respected charity for the poor and the homeless.

Brother Ronald Giannone, the ministry's executive director, said Harkins will be welcomed back after serving as a "quite popular" and "very effective" volunteer there before he went to prison.

Harkins has kept in touch with friends and is said to be in good spirits, as well as knowledgeable in horticulture from courses he took as an inmate.

His return comes at least five days too late for the spirited  festivities of the St. Patrick's Day Society, an assemblage he helped to found, heavy on Irish-American politicians. Every year the society sponsors a St. Patrick's Day Communion Mass & Breakfast to benefit the St. Patrick's Center in Wilmington and its programs for the disadvantaged.

Even last year, just days before sentencing, Harkins was in the thick of it. This year the events will have to go on without him.

"That's probably the biggest penance he has," Brother Ronald said.