Wednesday, December 16, 2009

PA New Leaf DeWeese Charged Using Staffers Campaign Work

Pa. House whip, official who resigned are charged
By MARC LEVY and MARK SCOLFORO (AP) – 1 hour ago

HARRISBURG, Pa. — State prosecutors added more defendants Tuesday to their expanding legislative corruption case, accusing a longtime House Democratic leader and former legislator serving in the governor's cabinet of illegally using taxpayer-paid employees to perform campaign work.

State Rep. Bill DeWeese, the former House speaker and now majority whip, and former Rep. Stephen Stetler, who resigned as Pennsylvania's secretary of revenue hours before the charges were announced, face four counts of theft and one count each of conspiracy and conflict of interest. A district office aide to DeWeese, Sharon Rodavich, also was charged.

DeWeese is the second former House speaker ensnared in the probe; former speaker John M. Perzel of Philadelphia is among 10 people with ties to House Republicans who have been charged. Attorney General Tom Corbett has also charged 12 other people associated with the Democratic caucus in the three-year-long investigation. With the latest filings, 25 people connected to the House of Representatives have been charged so far.

Stetler is a former campaign strategist for the House Democrats who left the Legislature in 2006.

Lawyers for Stetler and DeWeese did not return telephone messages Tuesday. It was unclear whether Rodavich had a lawyer, and a phone message left at her Carmichaels home was not immediately returned.

According to Corbett, DeWeese allegedly employed a legislative staff member in the Capitol from 2001 to 2007 primarily to raise campaign money. Kevin Sidella testified under a grant of immunity that he raised millions of dollars for DeWeese's political campaigns while being paid by taxpayers, Corbett said.

The grand jury report said DeWeese's former chief of staff, Mike Manzo, testified that DeWeese had no campaign apparatus outside his state-paid staff, and that his employees circulated nominating petitions, sent out campaign mailings, organized campaign events and canvassed door to door.

Corbett's investigation has focused on the blurring of the lines between political work and legislative jobs in the Capitol, and he said Tuesday that some state lawmakers have been slow to get the message.

"The evidence here is clear that they were using public resources for political purposes. That's illegal. It's a conflict of interest, common sense will tell you," he said.

DeWeese, 59, of Waynesburg in southwestern Pennsylvania, has served in the House since 1976, including a lengthy term as Democratic floor leader and a stint as speaker in the 1990s. His florid speech and keen legislative instincts have made him a powerful if divisive figure in the Capitol.


Lebder says scandal will hurt 50th District residents
December 16, 2009 03:02 AM TEXT SIZE By: REBEKAH SUNGALA
Herald Standard

Fred Lebder, longtime head of the Fayette County Democratic Party, said the charges brought against state Rep. Bill DeWeese will hurt the people who reside in the 50th District.

"(DeWeese) being in trouble is a blow to the municipalities and service organizations in his district. He's been very helpful to them," Lebder said. "He was in a position to help municipalities, fire companies and different agencies. Overall, it's a blow to Fayette County."

Lebder said he wasn't aware of all the specifics of the charges and that he would wait to learn more before commenting further. "It's one of those things. We'll see how it's going to play out now," he said.

In Fayette County, the 50th district covers part of German Township and all of Luzerne Township, Brownsville, Masontown and Point Marion. The district also covers East Bethlehem Township and Centerville in Washington County and all of Greene County.


was charged Tuedsay with one count each of conflict of interest, theft by unlawful taking or disposition, theft of services, theft by deception, theft by failure to make required disposition of funds received and criminal conspiracy.

The indictment filed by state Attorney General Tom Corbett said DeWeese paid workers to do campaign work at taxpayer expense from 2001-2007. Corbett said the charges were part of an ongoing grand jury investigation into the misuse of public resources and employees for campaign purposes in the Legislature.

Also indicted on similar charges were DeWeese's district aide Sharon Rodavich and former state representative and state Department of Revenue Secretary Stephen Stetler of York County.

Greg Leathers, head of the Greene County Democratic Party, said he would withhold comment until speaking with DeWeese and Rodavich.

"It's surprising," Leathers said, noting DeWeese's longtime career.

A native of Greene County, DeWeese has served in the 50th District in the state House of Representatives since 1976, when he won a special election to fill the seat.

DeWeese, 59, was elected House Majority Leader in January 1990, serving in that position until he was elected Speaker of the House for the 1993-94 term. In 1994, he lost the Speakership when Democrat Rep. Stish switched parties, giving the GOP the majority. He went on to serve as Minority Leader

Advertisement from 1994 until 2006.

Following the November 2006 elections when Democrats took control of the state House of Representatives, DeWeese became Democratic speaker-designate. But after it was clear the votes weren't for him to be the Speaker, he nominated Philadelphia

County Republican Rep. Dennis O'Brien for the office of Speaker and became the House Majority Leader.

Following the 2008 elections, DeWeese was elected to serve as the Majority Whip for the Democrats.

DeWeese took much criticism for being a key backer of a controversial pay raise in 2005. After much public outcry, the measure was rescinded. DeWeese said the controversy made him realize that changes were needed to make the state legislature more open, and he strongly supported a new open records law, touting himself as a reformer.

DeWeese played a central role in Corbett's investigation into whether the House Democratic caucus made illegal payments to staffers, including bonuses for campaign work. He was forced to fire several Democratic caucus staffers, including his chief of staff, after it was revealed that they improperly destroyed documents related to the attorney general's investigation.

DeWeese denied that he was aware of the payments and claimed that he was cooperating fully with Corbett's probe.

In 2002, DeWeese sued the Herald-Standard, claiming that a nearly yearlong series of caricatures and the brief accompanying editorial commentaries defamed him. The commentaries, along with editorials, discussed an alleged promise DeWeese made to release records of the $12 million special leadership account under his control.

DeWeese maintained in his lawsuit that he never promised to release the caucus records, and the brief editorial commentaries maintained that he did. By running the commentaries the paper insinuated that DeWeese lied about a promise to release the records, and cast aspersions on his character, he claimed.

In 2008, DeWeese dropped the libel lawsuit he filed against the Herald-Standard. The settlement agreement leading to the case being dropped gave DeWeese space in the newspaper to write a column about the purpose of the lawsuit and his legislative and reform efforts, both in general and specifically relating to open records laws.

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