Pa. House whip, official who resigned are charged

AP News
|
Posted: Dec 15, 2009 8:52 PM

State prosecutors added more defendants Tuesday to their expanding legislative corruption case, accusing a longtime House Democratic leader and a 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 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.

Attorney General Tom 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," he said. "That's illegal. It's a conflict of interest, common sense will tell you."

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. Corbett also has 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.

On Tuesday night, DeWeese took the microphone after a late House floor vote to say he was resigning his current leadership post as House Democratic whip and to thank his well-wishing colleagues.

"I've had a tough day ... but I want to say to one and all that I've enjoyed being the Democratic whip and God only knows what will be forthcoming on the future," he said before receiving a standing ovation.

Earlier Tuesday, DeWeese issued a written statement saying he had cooperated with Corbett's investigation and worked "to change the culture of the caucus by implementing ethics training and whistle-blower provisions. Obviously I'm disappointed by today's action."

Stetler is a former campaign strategist for the House Democrats who left the Legislature in 2006. Messages left at his home and at the office of his lawyer, Josh Lock, were not returned.

It was unclear whether Rodavich had a lawyer, and a phone message left at her Carmichaels home was not 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.

"Sidella recounted an occasion when he raised concerns to DeWeese about the political nature of his own work," the grand jury wrote. "DeWeese responded that 'our saving grace is that everyone does it.'"

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

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 early 1990s. His florid speech and keen legislative instincts have made him a powerful if divisive figure in the Capitol.

He lost his position as floor leader last year, and as a result of the charges had to relinquish his post as whip.

Rodavich, 53, who began working for DeWeese in 1994, was employed strictly for political purposes, Corbett said. She was a primary supervisor of DeWeese's day-to-day campaign activities out of his district office and rarely reported to work, Corbett said. Her current title is director of district outreach and her salary is $74,503.

Stetler, 60, who represented a York district in the House for 16 years, had been a top political strategist for the House Democrats from 2003 to 2006. He allegedly used taxpayer-paid employees to carry out campaign work, including research designed to expose opposing candidates' weaknesses, Corbett said.

Stetler, DeWeese and Rodavich were scheduled to turn themselves in for a preliminary arraignment Wednesday before a Dauphin County district judge.

In the only case in the investigation to go to trial so far, former state Democratic Rep. Sean Ramaley of Beaver County was acquitted of all charges last week. Corbett declined to say what he thought went wrong with that case, but said the defeat would sharpen prosecutors' focus.

The trial for some of the remaining House Democratic defendants is scheduled to begin Jan. 19, though at least five of them have signed plea agreements with prosecutors. A preliminary hearing for the Republican-linked defendants is not expected until March.

Corbett, a Republican, is a leading candidate for his party's nomination in next year's gubernatorial campaign.