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PA. Government At Work

May 23, 2010

Follow the Investigation at: http://casablancapa.blogspot.com

Story from Pittsburgh Live

HARRISBURG — With the assistance of his taxpayer-paid staff, Rep. Bill DeWeese led a life of privilege while a Democratic leader in state House, three of his former aides told a grand jury.

DeWeese, a former House speaker and majority and minority leader, used his legislative staff to run his personal life, his former chief of staff Michael Manzo said. They balanced his checkbook, paid bills, picked up dry cleaning, bought condoms, made sure lobbyists would take him to dinner and arranged dinner dates from a list of women, Manzo said.

“Bill’s staff was there to serve his personal needs as much as his political needs and his policy needs,” Manzo testified in November 2008.

DeWeese had some quirky demands, said Manzo and two other former staffers, Kevin Sidella and Scott Brubaker: His state-paid driver had to show up with the state car recently waxed; aides withdrew his money from ATM machines because he didn’t know how to use them; and he’d ask for “a small coffee in a big cup,” or “a sandwich cut in four” pieces, they said.

“Bill is obsessive. He has to have everybody around him doing something. He will hand you a cup and say, ‘Get me 12 M&M’s’ — ridiculous requests,” Sidella testified in June 2008.

Requests for such things as a “small salad in a big bowl” were part of what Brubaker in December 2008 called the “daily nuttiness that he put his immediate staff through.”

The state Attorney General’s Office last week charged DeWeese, 59, of Waynesburg with six felonies related to using staff for campaigns. He is not accused of any wrongdoing based on testimony that he directed his staff to carry out personal chores.

“Not a single one of these claims has anything to do with the charges against (former Democratic Whip) Mike Veon, Bill DeWeese or anyone else, and they are not worthy of a response,” DeWeese’s attorney, Walter Cohen, said Monday.

The grand jury testimony, a small portion of which the Tribune-Review obtained, was made available to defendants facing a Jan. 19 trial on corruption charges.

Veon of Beaver Falls and several others, including aides Annamarie Peretta-Rosepink and Brett Cott, face trial in Dauphin County on charges they operated a wide-ranging scheme to fuel campaigns with tax dollars. They are among 12 Democrats whom Attorney General Tom Corbett charged in July 2008.

Corbett’s spokesman Kevin Harley declined comment, citing the secrecy of grand jury proceedings.

DeWeese fired Manzo in November 2007 and has called him a liar for saying that DeWeese knew Veon and Manzo gave staffers taxpayer-paid bonuses for work on political campaigns. Manzo agreed to plead guilty and is cooperating with prosecutors.

Sidella, who testified to the grand jury about raising millions of dollars in campaign money for DeWeese during work hours for his state job, was granted immunity from prosecution. Brubaker agreed to plead guilty and is cooperating with Corbett’s office.

“(DeWeese) would take a piece of paper, rip it up into 100 tiny, little pieces and hand it to you,” Sidella told the grand jury. “It didn’t matter if there was a garbage can sitting right in front of him. He just wanted someone else to throw it away. It was very peculiar.”

Other legislative leaders have had state-paid drivers. Federal prosecutors said former Democratic Sen. Vincent Fumo of Philadelphia, convicted of 137 corruption charges in March, had three drivers and used his staff for personal tasks that included work on his farm in Halifax.

But aides said that doesn’t mean the story Manzo told about DeWeese, if true, is commonplace with every leader.

House Majority Leader Todd Eachus, a Luzerne County Democrat, “drives himself and runs his own personal errands,” said spokesman Brett Marcy.

“Never,” said Stephen Miskin, spokesman for House Minority Whip Sam Smith, R-Punxsutawney. “If I were to ask Sam the question, he would look at me and say, ‘Are you kidding me?’ It would not occur to him to ask others to do that for him.”

Manzo testified it wasn’t out of the ordinary for lawmakers to use staff for some personal tasks.

“I saw the way members treat their staff like they’re property (and) not staff people who are getting paid by the taxpayers,” said Manzo, who began working for House Democrats in 1994. He became DeWeese’s press secretary in 1999 and chief of staff in 2001.

“You know, I know members who asked staff to run out to their houses when they were in Harrisburg to shovel a sidewalk when it snows, and ‘make sure my grass gets cut over the weekend,’ stuff like that, but Bill (DeWeese) took it to a whole new level,” Manzo said.

DeWeese demanded that his driver, Ken Finnell, keep the car waxed and “the trunk … completely organized, with a card that he made Ken fill out putting little symbols on where everything was in the trunk.”

The head of House pages was sent to the drugstore to buy condoms for DeWeese and whatever else he needed, from peanuts to dishwashing detergent, Manzo said.

DeWeese was majority leader last session, but lost that post when the bonus scandal unfolded. He resigned as majority whip after his arraignment on the criminal charges.

“His district office staff did everything from doing his grocery shopping at the Giant Eagle, to picking up his dry cleaning, to make sure the carpet cleaner was at his cabin on a certain date and certain time,” Manzo said. He said a woman on staff did “all of his finances, balanced his checkbook, took care of his savings account.”

To make sure DeWeese ate each night, Manzo said, his scheduler called registered lobbyists on a list and would say, ” ‘Bill is in town tonight. He needs dinner,’ and so if this lobbyist said, ‘Oh I’m sorry, I’m busy — I have something to do with my kids tonight,’ she’d go to the next one … until somebody took him to dinner.”

Typically DeWeese would bring a date, and lining up a date was the scheduler’s responsibility, Manzo said. DeWeese, who is single, “had a list of five, six or seven women” and the staffer ensured one went to dinner with DeWeese each night, Manzo said.

In response to this post there is a comment with a link to an amended complaint.  So here’s the comment up front and center.

beth.gardner78@gmail.com
75.36.103.106

Mike Manzo has been discredited and proved in court to be a liar. Kevin Sidella reported to Mike Manzo, not to Bill DeWeese. Staffers may have run errands on occasion outside of staff time, but Bill DeWeese paid them. In the condom case, a staff member said he was running into a drug store and asked if Bill wanted anything and Bill said yes. Yes, that was poor judgment, but not corruption.

As one former DeWeese staffer said, Bill may be a lot of things, but the people in the 50th know he is not corrupt. His key failing was to hire low-lifes like Manzo and Sidella. But the investigators didn’t want to hear that. Prosecutor Anthony Krastec was on a witch hunt for years against DeWeese, refused to accept exculpatory evidence in the case, and is the former boss of DeWeese’s successor in leadership, Frank Dermody.

Voters in his district know that Bill has been one of the most effective legislators – when he left leadership, the budget wasn’t signed until fall.

If you want to read about real corruption, read how Corbett covered up corruption in his own office, as charged by his former department head.
http://www.scribd.com/doc/13791903/20081002-Kimmett-Amended-Complaint

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One Comment
  1. Just investigations permalink

    Mike Manzo has been discredited and proved in court to be a liar. Kevin Sidella reported to Mike Manzo, not to Bill DeWeese. Staffers may have run errands on occasion outside of staff time, but Bill DeWeese paid them. In the condom case, a staff member said he was running into a drug store and asked if Bill wanted anything and Bill said yes. Yes, that was poor judgment, but not corruption.

    As one former DeWeese staffer said, Bill may be a lot of things, but the people in the 50th know he is not corrupt. His key failing was to hire low-lifes like Manzo and Sidella. But the investigators didn’t want to hear that. Prosecutor Anthony Krastec was on a witch hunt for years against DeWeese, refused to accept exculpatory evidence in the case, and is the former boss of DeWeese’s successor in leadership, Frank Dermody.

    Voters in his district know that Bill has been one of the most effective legislators – when he left leadership, the budget wasn’t signed until fall.

    If you want to read about real corruption, read how Corbett covered up corruption in his own office, as charged by his former department head. http://www.scribd.com/doc/13791903/20081002-Kimmett-Amended-Complaint

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