Trial of longest-serving Pennsylvania lawmaker heads to jury

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 01, 2012 6:28 PM
Trial of longest-serving Pennsylvania lawmaker heads to jury

By Mark Shade

HARRISBURG, Pa (Reuters) - The corruption trial of one of Pennsylvania's longest-serving and most influential lawmakers, who is accused of using state workers to campaign for him for free, went to the jury on Wednesday after lawyers completed their final arguments.

H. William DeWeese, 61, who was first elected a Democratic state representative in 1976, when he was 26, faces charges of criminal conspiracy, theft and conflict of interest in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania County Court.

The case stems from a larger investigation dubbed "Bonusgate" that has ensnared 10 House Democratic caucus members and nine House Republican caucus members, including former Republican House Speaker John Perzel of Philadelphia.

Perzel has pleaded guilty to corruption charges and awaits sentencing.

DeWeese, who has been House majority whip and speaker during his long career, has a sense of entitlement about forcing state employees to campaign for him, prosecutor Kenneth Brown said in his closing statement to the jury.

"I'm entitled to do it, and I'm gonna do it. That's the real Bill DeWeese," Brown said.

Doing any campaigning while on the public clock is against the law in Pennsylvania.

DeWeese testified in his own defense earlier in the day that he did nothing wrong and had trusted the hundreds of people who worked in the Democratic Caucus because he was rarely around to supervise.

"I was always on the floor (of the House) and never in the office itself. I traveled more than any leader, ever," he said.

He also said he consistently told employees they must use personal leave or lunch hours if they were going to campaign for him.

Defense attorney William Costopoulos said in his closing statement that his client may have been too trusting and not enough of a detail-oriented person.

"When the cat was away, the mice played," he said.

Judge Todd Hoover said he would charge the jury on Thursday morning.

(Editing By Ellen Wulfhorst and Greg McCune)