HARRISBURG -- Twelve people connected to the state House Democratic caucus, including a state representative and the former caucus whip, were charged Thursday after grand jurors concluded that millions of taxpayer dollars were illegally siphoned from the public treasury to underwrite political campaigns.

Grand jurors reported that public funds were used to dole out hefty taxpayer-financed bonuses under a system in which employees were ranked according to their willingness to pitch in on campaigns; state computers and equipment were commandeered for election purposes; and lucrative public contracts were issued for partisan purposes.

"It's a very sad day in Pennsylvania," Attorney General Tom Corbett said in announcing the charges.

Former Democratic whip Mike Veon; Rep. Sean Ramaley, a Beaver County Democrat currently running for state Senate; and Michael Manzo, forced out in November as chief of staff to House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese, D-Greene, were among the 12 people who were charged.

Corbett, a Republican and potential 2010 gubernatorial candidate, said he expects more arrests. He declined to say whether the investigation has uncovered evidence of similar illegal acts within the House Republican, Senate Republican or Senate Democratic caucuses.

"We have pushed this through fairly and as speedily as we can," Corbett said. "We will continue to do that with the other three caucuses."

Robert G. Del Greco Jr., Veon's lawyer, said Thursday that Veon has consistently asserted he is innocent of any wrongdoing. Ramaley's lawyer, Philip Ignelzi, said his client denies the charges and "did his job. He did what he was required to do, he did what he was asked to do." Manzo's lawyer, Jim Eisenhower, did not return a phone message seeking comment late Thursday.

Among the allegations disclosed in two lengthy grand jury presentments released to the public on Thursday:

When Ramaley ran for the House in 2004, Veon hired him for a part-time, no-work "legislative assistant" job at his Beaver Falls district office, from which Ramaley campaigned. Ramaley was charged with six counts.

Veon ran a massive and primarily taxpayer-paid political fundraising operation from an office suite in the Capitol. The office raised campaign funds, booked event locations, designed menus and mailed out fundraiser invitations and campaign brochures. Grand jurors wrote they "discovered and reviewed an extraordinary history, dating back many years, of consistent abuses of taxpayer resources" by Veon and his staff.

As many as 50 House Democratic staffers participated in a 2004 challenge to presidential hopeful Ralph Nader's attempt to get on the Pennsylvania ballot. After Nader was rejected, Veon's congratulatory e-mail to his staff said they "have given John Kerry an even better opportunity to win this state." A similar effort was involved in challenging Carl Romanelli's ballot position in the race against Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Bob Casey in 2006.

Manzo, whose wife also works for the House Democrats and faces charges in the case, carried on an affair with a woman that began when she was a female intern in 2004 and continued late into 2007. Manzo created a taxpayer-funded job for the woman in Pittsburgh, where she attended graduate school. Although most of the time she had no work to do, she was paid as much as $36,000 in one year. Michael Manzo faces 47 counts; Rachel Manzo, the House Democratic Policy Committee executive director, faces 12 counts.

Veon used two public employees to take his and his wife's motorcycles to a rally in Sturgis, S.D., in 2004 so that the Veons could fly there and have the motorcycles waiting. The employees' travel expenses, nearly

$1,500, were paid by taxpayers. Veon faces 59 counts.

Jeff Foreman, chief counsel to House Majority Whip Keith McCall, D-Carbon, and a former top Veon aide, engaged in private legal work from his Capitol offices, and three times logged more than 24 work hours in a given day between the two jobs. Royce Morris, Foreman's lawyer, declined to comment about whether Foreman believes he did anything illegal.

The investigation was initiated after The Patriot-News of Harrisburg reported in January 2007 that secretive legislative bonuses for "meritorious or bonus pay" were being given out.

Letters to the recipients that bore DeWeese's signature instructed them to keep quiet about the supplemental payments. DeWeese has said he did not know about the letters or the scope of the bonuses. DeWeese was not charged and Corbett declined to comment about him.

DeWeese issued a statement Thursday saying he was outraged by the allegations.

"I feel searing disappointment over the actions of those I trusted, yet I am also proud of the staff in our caucus who came forward and told the truth," he said.

Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate handed out nearly $4 million in bonuses to their employees in 2005 and 2006, with the largest chunk -- more than half the total -- paid by the House Democrats.

Veon, who was DeWeese's second-in-command, represented a Beaver County district for 22 years but was voted out of office in 2006 amid the anti-incumbent backlash over the 2005 legislative pay raises.

Late last year, DeWeese forced out seven Democratic House caucus employees -- including Michael Manzo -- as a result of information that turned up in connection with the bonus investigation. All had received bonuses in 2005-06, in some cases well over $20,000.

Four other key caucus employees who lost their jobs in November were also charged on Thursday: Scott Brubaker, the director of staffing and administration; Brett Cott, a political strategist and former aide to Veon and DeWeese; Stephen Keefer, the director of information technology; and Earl Mosley, the personnel director.

Also charged were Jennifer Brubaker, Scott's wife and director of the caucus' Legislative Research Office; Patrick J. Lavelle, a research analyst; and Annamarie Perretta-Rosepink, a former district aide to Veon.

All 12 were charged with various counts of theft, conflict of interest and conspiracy and are expected to be arraigned before a Harrisburg district judge on Friday. Corbett said they faced substantial jail sentences and that he intends to seek restitution.

Jennifer Brubaker, Rachel Manzo, Foreman and Lavelle were suspended Thursday without pay or benefits.

Corbett based the charges on the results of two grand jury presentments -- one from Pittsburgh and one from Harrisburg -- that together total more than 90 pages.

An intriguing footnote said the Harrisburg grand jury report focused only on bonuses for campaign work.

"The expenditure of taxpayer funds for other types of bonuses is reserved for future consideration of the grand jury," the document states. Another footnote said "matters pertaining to potential obstruction or destruction of evidence remain part of the grand jury's ongoing investigation."

------

On the Net:

Corbett news release: http://www.attorneygeneral.gov/press.aspx?id3771

Harrisburg grand jury presentment:

http://www.attorneygeneral.gov/uploadedFiles/Press/Bonusgate%20prese ntment%2

02.pdf

Pittsburgh grand jury presentment:

http://www.attorneygeneral.gov/uploadedFiles/Press/Bonusgate%20prese ntment%2

01.pdf

comments powered by Disqus