By Dave Warner
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - John Perzel, who once was one of Pennsylvania's most powerful political figures, pleaded guilty on Wednesday in a corruption scandal that became known as "bonusgate."
In a statement after he pleaded guilty before Dauphin County Common Pleas Court Judge Richard A. Lewis, Perzel, 61, said: "To the people of Pennsylvania; to the voters who put their trust in me for the 32 years that I had the privilege of serving the 172nd district; and to my family and friends, I want to express my profound regrets for my actions. You had a right to expect better from me, and I am sorry that I let you down."
Defense lawyer Brian J. McMonagle said that in theory Perzel, a Republican who once was speaker of the House of Representatives from the Northeast section of Philadelphia, could face up to 24 years in prison and a $50,000 fine for eight counts of conspiracy, theft and conflict of interest.
But he said that the actual sentencing guidelines for the charges would be between 18 and 50 months in prison. Perzel already paid one price for the charges: he lost his re-election bid last November to a City Council aide named Kevin Boyle, age 30.
Also pleading guilty on Wednesday Perzel's nephew, Eric Ruth, who was charged with conspiracy and conflict of interest. Previously, other Perzel confidantes had pleaded guilty as well. They included Samuel Stokes, Perzel's brother in law, Don McClintock, a campaign aide, and Paul Towhey.
Current Gov. Tom Corbett, who was then the Republican attorney general of Pennsylvania, originally announced the charges in the case.
The probe came after the Harrisburg Patriot News newspaper revealed that millions of dollars in bonus money had been given to legislative aides. A grand jury then investigated the issue of payments to state employees for political campaigns. Perzel himself was originally charged with 82 counts, but in the end, he pleaded to a far smaller number of charges.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Greg McCune)