Dozen Pa. Dems accused in bonus probe

July 10, 2008 12:50:14 PM PDT
A state representative, a former lawmaker and 10 other Democrats were accused of using public employees and taxpayer-owned equipment for political campaign purposes - the result of a probe spurred by nearly $4 million in secret legislative bonuses. Rep. Sean Ramaley, a Beaver County Democrat; former Rep. Mike Veon, who served as Democratic whip; and Michael Manzo, a former chief of staff to Democratic Majority Leader Bill DeWeese, were among those named in Thursday's indictment.

The investigation by the state attorney general began with a look at whether some of the bonuses paid to legislative staffers in 2005 and 2006 were illegal rewards for campaign work. The largest chunk of the money - more than half the total - was paid by the House Democrats, who reclaimed control of the chamber in the November 2006 election after 12 years in the minority.

The case has gripped the state's political establishment for more than a year and a half. Attorney General Tom Corbett, who announced the charges Thursday, said he expects more arrests to follow.

The resulting indictment went far beyond the bonuses, however, in accusing the House Democratic staffers of using taxpayer money to fund campaign endeavors.

The bonuses came to light in January 2007, when The Patriot-News of Harrisburg reported that recipients of "meritorious or bonus pay" received letters bearing DeWeese's signature that instructed them to keep quiet about the supplemental payments.

DeWeese, D-Greene, has maintained he did not personally sign the letters and did not know about them until much later. The bonuses were handed out so quietly that some lawmakers were unaware that people they supervise had been recipients.

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

He maintains he did nothing wrong, defense lawyer Robert G. Del Greco Jr. said.

The House and Senate Republican caucuses also have been subpoenaed, but not the Senate Democratic caucus, spokesman Charlie Tocci said Wednesday.

Late last year DeWeese forced out seven Democratic House caucus employees - including 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.

Manzo's lawyer, Jim Eisenhower, declined to comment Thursday ahead of Corbett's announcement.