Jury begins deliberations in Penn. corruption case

Reuters News
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Posted: Feb 02, 2012 12:48 PM

By Mark Shade

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - A Pennsylvania jury began deliberations on Thursday in the corruption trial of one of the state's longest-serving lawmakers, accused of using state workers to campaign for him for free.

State Rep. Bill DeWeese, who has represented southwestern Pennsylvania for 36 years, is charged with conflict of interest, theft and conspiracy. If convicted, he faces a possible sentence of 38 years in prison.

The case stems from a larger investigation dubbed "Bonusgate" that ensnared 10 House Democrats and nine House Republicans, including former Republican House Speaker John Perzel of Philadelphia, who pleaded guilty but has not been sentenced.

As Dauphin County Judge Todd Hoover instructed the jury on how to proceed with deliberations, DeWeese's 91-year-old mother Dotty broke down and sobbed in her son's arms.

Hoover told the seven women and five men on the panel to use their common sense to reach a verdict and "not concern yourself with the outcome."

Prosecutor Kenneth Brown said in his closing statement on Wednesday that DeWeese, 61, a former Speaker of the House, had a sense of entitlement about forcing state employees to campaign for him.

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

DeWeese testified in his own defense 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.

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

DeWeese has said if he is exonerated he plans to run for re-election.

(Editing By Ellen Wulfhorst and Daniel Trotta)