Pa. Rep. Convicted On 5 Counts In Corruption Case

Published February 6, 2012 5:00PM (EST)

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A jury on Monday convicted a senior Democrat in the state House of Representatives of all but one of six charges in the latest corruption trial stemming from a five-year investigation of the use of public employees and legislative resources for campaign purposes.

Rep. Bill DeWeese of Greene County was convicted of conspiracy, conflict of interest and three counts of theft; the Dauphin County jury acquitted him of one other theft count. His lawyer vowed to appeal, and DeWeese said afterward he would run for re-election this year to retain his southwestern Pennsylvania seat in the Legislature.

Testimony in the trial lasted seven days, and jurors reached their verdict early Monday after taking the weekend off.

Senior Deputy Attorney General Ken Brown, the lead prosecutor, described DeWeese during the trial as "a common thief with uncommon access to other people's money."

Prosecutors relied heavily on testimony by people who worked for DeWeese at his Capitol office in Harrisburg and his district office that campaign work was an integral part of their jobs.

Those witnesses included DeWeese's former chief of staff, Mike Manzo, who testified against his ex-boss and is awaiting sentencing under a plea deal in which he pleaded guilty to reduced charges. Another key witness was Kevin Sidella, a former aide who handled DeWeese's political fundraising and was granted immunity from prosecution.

DeWeese, 61, oversaw hundreds of caucus employees during his two decades as the House Democratic leader — he also is a former House speaker — but said he delegated responsibility for day-to-day operations to others, including Manzo and the then-No. 2 caucus leader, Democratic whip Mike Veon of Beaver County, who is serving a six- to 14-year prison term after being convicted in a related case.

DeWeese said he advocated compliance with rules barring political activity on state time and realized only after the probe began in early 2007 that many employees were not filing required paperwork to show that their campaign activity was on their own time.

His lawyer, William Costopoulos, said DeWeese was let down by people he trusted.

"We're here because Bill DeWeese trusted everyone," Costopoulos said at the outset of the trial.

More than 30 people friends and supporters turned out to testify — some collectively — in his defense, and DeWeese himself testified for more than three hours.

Republican Tom Corbett launched the investigation while he was attorney general and directed it until he was sworn in as governor last year.

Since he was charged in December 2009, DeWeese has made no secret of his view that the investigation was a politically motivated move by "Corbett and his cronies."

So far, 11 Democrats and nine Republicans, including former House Speaker John Perzel, have been convicted or pleaded guilty, while two defendants were acquitted and charges against another were dropped.

The other defendant, former Rep. Stephen Stetler, D-York, is slated for trial later this year.

By Salon Staff

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