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Friday, May 05, 2006
Posted 11:02 PM by

Perzel pile on

John Perzel, Pennsylvania's speaker of the house, is catching flack across the state for attending a corporate board meeting for a prison management firm rather than performing his state duties while the House debated a property tax reform proposal this week.I don't like journalistic or political pile ons.

They're ugly, messy, stupid and nobody ever really learns much from them. Usually, I just stand on the sideline, laugh at the morons and wait for the high emotions and feeding frenzy to ebb.

For that reason, I declined the opportunity last summer to go the suburban New Jersey home of former Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens for his front lawn impromptu press conferences and sit-up-fest.

But I just can't help myself when it comes to Pennsylvania Speaker of the House John Perzel's mysterious disappearance from the property tax reform debate this week.

Maybe, it's because "The Speaker," as Perzel calls himself in his latest annual statement of financial interests (PDF), would prefer for the public not to know who gives him and other state lawmakers anything, even though his form details more than $34,000 worth of gifts he received last year.

That's not the only way he has been lining his pockets.

While state representatives here were tableing House Bill 39 until after the May 16 primary election, Perzel was enjoying free hospitality at the luxurious Boca Raton Resort & Club in Florida, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported Friday.

Perzel stayed in a room that normally costs between $259 to $400 a night and the Philly Republican made about $5,000 attending the annual shareholders meeting of GEO Group Inc. Perzel, 55, has been on the company's board of directors since last year.

Never heard of GEO? Me neither. So I did a little research.

GEO primarily builds and operates prisons. Last year, its 10,000 employees ran 61 jails around the world - including the 1,785 men, women and kids serving time at the George W. Hill Correctional Facility in Thorton, Pa., which GEO expanded in the late 90s while the company was known as Wackenhut Corrections Corp.

The Delaware County medium-security jail is the only privately run prison in Pennsylvania. In 2002, the Philadelphia Prison System started sending hundreds of its inmates there whenever Philly's slams are filled.

"The Speaker" knows how to rule the state House with an iron fist, but what does he know about running a company or a prison?

John Perzel stayed for free in the luxurious Boca Raton Resort & Club and made $5,000 while attending a board meeting for GEO Group Inc., a prison management firm this week.He certainly stands out like a sore thumb among GEO's board of directors. He's one of only two directors from Philly. (The other is Richard H. Glanton, Exelon's senior vice president for corporate development.) He's also the only one who doesn't hold a masters, doctorate or a law degree. Perzel just has bachelors degree from Troy State University.

Yet, Perzel is on the board's audit and finance, compensation, independent and corporate governance committees.

Directors of GEO are paid an annual retainer of $20,000, $1,500 for each board meeting they attend and $1,000 for each committee meeting they attend, according to a 2003 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the last such filing I could find spelling out the board's compensation.

Each director also receives annually from GEO an option to purchase up to two thousand (2,000) shares of common stock of GEO. Perzel now owns 2,700 shares, valued at $38.10 each at Friday's close, for a total worth of $102,870.

How did Perzel land such a cushy part-time gig? Here's one conspiracy theory for you: The company intentionally makes political ties and contributions in order to gain business.

Hill is run by the Delaware County Board of Prison Inspectors, which was chaired for 13 years by Springfield Township Republican Party boss Charles P. Sexton Jr. until he retired in January.

GEO's $33 million annual deal to run Hill - Delaware County's single largest expenditure of tax dollars - expires with the prison board on May 31. Sexton decided to put the contract out to bid last year, but denied that his decision was based on problems at the prison, according to the Delaware County Times.

GEO has paid out hundreds of thousand of dollars to settle wrongful death lawsuits, fired several employees who committed serious crimes of their own and struggled to keep drugs out of the prison. It has let the wrong men walk out - three times in as many years - and kept an innocent man imprisoned last year.

The company and a rival, Management and Training Corp., are now in a bidding war for the contract. Having "The Speaker" on the company payroll certainly could help sway a local prison board.

Is John Perzel on the board of GEO Group Inc. to make sure it lands the $33 million annual contract to run the George W. Hill Correction Facility - Pennsylvania's only privately run prison?Besides, Perzel and Sexton know each other. They were both among Pennsylvania's 75 delegates to the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City.

Perzel also served on area charity boards with the late G. Fred DiBona Jr., chairman of Independence Blue Cross who was also a board member of both GEO and Exelon until he died of cancer last year.


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