Former Pa. House leader waives hearing

October 7, 2008 12:01:05 PM PDT
A former Democratic House leader accused of using government employees for political campaigns waived his right to a preliminary hearing Tuesday just before one of the workers testified that the legislator's office was burning through toner for printing campaign materials. Former House Democratic Whip Mike Veon and three former legislative aides signed waiver papers before Dauphin County Judge President Judge Richard A. Lewis. Six other aides had previously waived the hearings, at which prosecutors must offer enough evidence to justify holding a trial in county court.

In all, 12 people are accused of theft, conflict of interest and conspiracy, though the number of charges and types of allegations vary.

Veon, an 11-term lawmaker before losing re-election two years ago, is accused of diverting taxpayer funds and using state workers illegally in his role as a chief campaign strategist for the House Democrats. He faces 59 counts, the most of all the defendants.

An investigative grand jury concluded that taxpayer-financed bonuses were doled out as rewards for campaign activity, state-owned computers and other equipment were commandeered for political purposes and government contracts were awarded to firms to provide electioneering services.

Veon's attorney, Bob Del Greco, said the looming election and a "politically charged atmosphere" influenced the decision to bypass Tuesday's hearing.

"All things considered, we decided the best course of action is a waiver," said Del Greco. He declined to say whether Veon was cooperating with investigators or seeking a plea bargain.

The 10 waivers filed by the start of Tuesday's hearing left only two defendants to participate in the proceeding: state Rep. Sean Ramaley, the only sitting legislator who has been charged, and Anna Marie Perretta-Rosepink, who ran Veon's Beaver Falls district office.

Four witnesses testified Tuesday morning and described how the line between their legislative duties - for which they were paid by the state - and campaign work was regularly ignored.

Joseph Tarquinio, a computer technician for the House Democratic caucus, said the equipment at Veon's district office in Beaver Falls was much better than what was available at Veon's campaign office across the street.

So much campaign material was being printed at the district office that it was sometimes going through one or two $300-plus color toner cartridges each day, he said.

"I observed copiers being used, printers being used, computers being used," he testified.

Ramaley, D-Beaver, is accused of using his time as a part-time aide to campaign for the House seat he eventually won. He had been seeking an open state Senate seat in the November election, but dropped out of the race in August.

Stephen Webb, a research project manager for the House Democrats, told Lewis that he spent nearly two months helping Ramaley campaign in 2004.

"His 'cover story,' if you want to call it that, was to be an attorney and to deal with matters that might arise," Webb said. He never saw Ramaley do anything but campaign during the time they worked closely together, he said.

The others to testify early Tuesday were Melissa Lewis, regional director for the House Democrats' Allegheny County delegation, and Richard Pronesti, a research specialist for Rep. Phyllis Mundy, D-Luzerne.

Only people associated with the House Democratic caucus have been arrested so far in the wide-ranging probe, but Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett has said all four legislative caucuses are being investigated and that more arrests are expected.

Bryan Walk, attorney for Brett Cott, who also waived Tuesday, said Cott does not have a deal with prosecutors, and made the decision "simply so we would not have to part of this show."

Cott is a former Veon aide, a former policy analyst to Majority Leader Bill DeWeese, D-Greene, and had been a leading Democratic campaign strategist.

The other defendants to waive Tuesday were Stephen A.H. Keefer, former director of information technologies for the House Democrats; and Earl Mosley, the caucus' former personnel director.


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