Rep. John Perzel charged in Pa. corruption probe

November 12, 2009 3:31:11 PM PST
Former state House Speaker John Perzel is among 10 people connected to the House Republican caucus charged Thursday in a legislative investigation into the misuse of public resources and employees for campaign purposes.

Attorney General Tom Corbett said a grand jury found that Perzel, a Philadelphia Republican who still serves in the House, was the architect of an illegal scheme in which more than $10 million in taxpayer money was spent to help win political campaigns.

All told, the grand jury presentment said it found that the House Republican caucus spent more than $20 million between 2000 and 2007 on many activities that benefited political purposes.

Perzel sought to gain a competitive advantage in political campaigns for himself and other GOP candidates throughout the state in order to maintain and increase his power, Corbett said.

Perzel insisted in a written statement that he was innocent.

"I have faithfully served the people of my district, my city and my state for more than 30 years, and I have never used public funds for my personal or political gain," he wrote.

Also charged in the ongoing grand jury probe were Perzel's former chief of staff, Brian Preski, and former House GOP counsel Brett Feese.

The charges revolve around the use of taxpayer money to buy voter data, computer software and services to buttress GOP campaign efforts, and efforts to cover it up, Corbett said. Campaign work by some House GOP information technology employees became pervasive, he said.

Corbett said efforts to cover up the schemes added significantly to the time and cost of the investigation, which began in 2007.

"You're interfering with justice; you're interfering with people finding out with what truly happened," Corbett said.

Corbett announced the latest charges, which include theft, conspiracy, conflict of interest and obstruction of justice, at a news conference Thursday at his Harrisburg office.

The defendants were scheduled to surrender Friday morning before a Dauphin County district judge, Corbett said.

They come 16 months after Corbett's office charged a dozen people connected to the House Democratic caucus, including former Democratic Whip Michael Veon, with similar offenses.

Corbett, who is seeking the 2010 GOP nomination for governor, had been criticized for charging only Democrats. He said that the investigation was continuing and that more arrests were anticipated.

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