HARRISBURG -- The next round of criminal charges in the legislative bonus investigation will be filed either this month or after the Nov. 4 election, state Attorney General Tom Corbett said Tuesday.
Corbett told The Associated Press that, to avoid undue influence on the balloting, his office won't charge anyone in the Capitol scandal between Oct. 1 and the election. He said the self-imposed moratorium is modeled on a policy that was in force when he was a federal prosecutor in western Pennsylvania.
"It's just an abundance of caution," he said in an interview. "It might affect my election by not doing it. I don't know."
In July, a dozen people connected to the House Democratic caucus, including a former party whip and one sitting legislator, became the first to be arrested in the investigation. Each was charged with theft, conspiracy and conflict of interest. Corbett's office alleged that legislative employees were paid bonuses for campaign work, often on state time, and that public equipment and contracts were used to advance political interests.
Corbett has said the investigation is focused on Democrats and Republicans in both the House and Senate, and that more arrests are expected.
He said Tuesday that the next arrests could be made by the end of this month, but only "if all the dominoes fall in the right line." As an example of factors that make the timing impossible to predict, he said investigators recently were forced to postpone an important interview because of bad weather.
Investigators "are putting in 18-, 20-hour days. We're trying to get it done," he said. But "I will not compromise the strength of an investigation" to meet an arbitrary timetable.
Most of the 253 seats in the Legislature are open this year and the election campaigns are being played out against the backdrop of the ongoing investigation.
Corbett, a Republican, is seeking a second four-year term in the election. He faces opposition from Democratic nominee John Morganelli, the Northampton County district attorney, and Libertarian candidate Marakay Rogers, a York lawyer.
Morganelli, who has been critical of Corbett's handling of the investigation, said Tuesday he would comment on the latest developments at another time.
Rogers said she supports Corbett's pre-election ban on the filing of charges, but that it is likely to raise questions among some voters. If no charges are filed by the end of September, she said, "voters are going to have to contemplate whether he's going to take any action after the election."
Also Tuesday, citizen activist Gene Stilp filed a lawsuit challenging the use of taxpayers' money to cover the legal costs of House Democratic caucus members and staffers who have
been criminally charged.
The Commonwealth Court suit, which names House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese and state Treasurer Robin Wiessmann, seeks to prevent any more legal bills from being paid and to force reimbursement of money already spent on legal bills.
DeWeese's office said this summer that the investigation had resulted in more than $1.4 million in payments to House Democrats' lawyers and consultants. The House Republicans, Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats reported spending considerably less.
DeWeese spokesman Tom Andrews called Stilp's lawsuit frivolous and "riddled with false statements and inaccuracies." He said the money was not spent to defend members or employees, "but rather to facilitate cooperation" with the investigation.
Wiessmann's office declined comment.