"What's black and white and read all over?"

Saturday, June 03, 2006
Posted 9:09 PM by

Perzel takes trips, pays staffers with campaign cash

Pennsylvania House Speaker John Perzel has paid his staffer $700,000 out of campaign contributions for their political work.Anyone who wants to know why Pennsylvanians are crying out for reform and throwing incumbent legislators out of office need only read a story from today's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review about state House Speaker John Perzel.

In a state where there are no limits on how much money a candidate can raise and how much someone can donate, and with little to no restrictions on what the money can be spent for, Perzel, R-Philadelphia, has set a new all-time low.

He's used $700,000 of the contributions he's raised to reimburse family, friends and legislative staffers assisting his campaign - in effect paying them for their political help when some already draw a salary from the state.

For instance, Perzel's chief of staff, attorney Brian Preski, is paid $160,000 by state taxpayers to oversee Perzel's legislative staff. In 2005, Perzel's campaign also paid him a $56,000 salary as its chairman.

Perzel's campaign also reimbursed Preski $264,000 in 2004 and 2005 for expenses ranging from bottled water, to trips to Las Vegas for him, Perzel and their wives and trips to the last two Super Bowls for both men and their sons, as well as babysitters and food for Preski's kids.

The Trib quotes John Kennedy, a former Republican House member from Cumberland County, as saying Perzel's campaign spending is "mind-boggling" and "an abuse of power."

Perzel didn't have to pay for his own tickets to the Super Bowls or his trip to Vegas. They were paid for by lobbyists.

However, the verbatim transcript of his and Preski's responses to the newspaper is downright hysterical to read.

At one point, Perzel was asked why his campaign spent $1,349 for a bar bill at Davio's restaurant in Philadelphia on Oct. 1, 2004, for which Preski was reimbursed. The receipt for "liquor" was marked "Supreme Court."

"Separate and apart from his other duties, Mr. Preski served during that time as a member of the Supreme Court Criminal Rules Committee," Perzel wrote. "The members of the Criminal Rules Committee came to the City of Philadelphia in early October 2004. At a dinner event for the Committee my campaign paid for the drinks served that night.

"There were committee members in attendance at the dinner. My campaign benefits from the knowledge of the issues affecting criminal justice policy in our Commonwealth. As the Speaker I am often asked during campaigns my views on many of the issues that affect the Commonwealth as a whole. Mr. Preski is able to gain important insight into these matters during the give and take between the members of this Committee during the meals that take place when the Committee is in recess. As a courtesy to the members of this Committee, who are themselves volunteers, my campaign committee paid for this expense of the dinner during their visit to Philadelphia."

Is it any wonder now why Perzel put Preski in charge of a closed-door panel of current and former state lawmakers, lawyers, judges and others that will make sure a lobbyist disclosure bill passes Constitutional muster before it's put to a vote?

The bill itself is being written by Perzel's unnamed "research staff" behind closed doors and Perzel has promised to have it on Gov. Ed Rendell's desk by the end of the month.

Attorney Brian Preski, House speaker John Perzel's chief of staff, has drawn an extra $56,000 salary from Perzel's campaign funds. He also happens to be chairman of the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority.Despite the outlays, Perzel had nearly $1.5 million left in two campaign war chests - Friends of John Perzel and John Perzel Victory 2006 - on May 1. Nevertheless, he was still out raising money even though he didn't have a primary opponent on May 16.

In fact, he raised another $500,000 last week in Pittsburgh, the Tribune-Review reported.

Is it wonder why reform-minded Republicans are now considering ousting Perzel from his leadership position?


Friday, June 02, 2006
Posted 8:54 PM by

D'Elia indictment raises Pa. slots question again

After 20 years of official suspicion but no charges, alleged mob boss William 'Big Bill' D'Elia was finally indicted in a money laundering scheme. He pleaded not guilty Wednesday.It took 20 years, but the feds finally indicted reputed northeastern Pennsylvania mob boss William "Big Bill" D'Elia this week for allegedly money laundering somebody else's drug profits.

Word of the indictment, which was unsealed Thursday after being filed May 24, came in today's newspapers on the last day the state's Gaming Control Board was to accept public comment on two proposals for standalone slot machine parlors in the Poconos.

One of the slots hopefuls, Dunmore banker, landfill owner and auto parts dealer Louis DeNaples, has alleged ties to D'Elia, 59, the alleged head of the Pittston-based Buffalino crime family.

DeNaples' spokesman Kevin Feeley denied the accusation at an April hearing of the Gaming Board on his proposal for gambling at Mount Airy Lodge, saying, "He has no ties to organized crime."

But in 2001, the IRS filed an affidavit in U.S. District Court outlining contacts and "good will" and protection money DeNaples allegedly paid to D'Elia. Neither man was charged with any wrongdoing.

Why would DeNaples pay D'Elia protection money?

In 1989, Harold Kaufman, a former union official, told the now-defunct Pennsylvania Crime Commission that D'Elia was a mob power broker in the solid-waste landfill industry in upstate Pennsylvania.

DeNaples owns the Keystone Landfill, one of the state's largest, near Scranton. He is also an alleged felon.

In 1978, DeNaples received a suspended sentence. He pleaded no contest to felony fraud after a jury could not reach a verdict on charges he tried to defraud the federal government out of $525,000 in the wake of Tropical Storm Agnes. In 1990, the Crime Commission reported James Osticco, underboss of the Buffalino crime family, bribed the husband of a juror to hold out for acquittal in the trial.

Is the state Gaming Control Board even investigating the alleged long-term ties between Bill D'Elia, the reputed head of the Buffalino crime family, and slots hopeful Louis DeNaples?Between 2000 and 2004, DeNaples and two of his companies allegedly donated more than $1 million to the state's top politicians - including Gov. Ed Rendell, Attorney General Tom Corbett, judges and leading state legislators, the Scranton Times-Tribune has reported. I've only been able to confirm contributions totaling $679,375.

But state records do show that DeNaples gave $115,000 towards Rendell's election in 2002.

Rendell spokesman Chuck Ardo said Friday he could see no connection between the governor and D'Elia through DeNaples. "Given the six degrees of separation like that, I can associate you with Mr. D'Elia," Ardo said.

Actually, I've already said I've met D'Elia but not DeNaples. It was only for a moment and, I'm sure, entirely forgetable to the former mob driver turned alleged mob kingpin. D'Elia used to hold court in a booth at The Woodlands, a nightclub near Wilkes-Barre which was known in the '90s as being one of the largest purchasers of alcohol in Pennsylvania.

A slots fan, D'Elia was banned from Atlantic City's casinos in 2003 by the New Jersey attorney general's office.

"Given the six degrees of separation like that, I can associate you with Mr. D'Elia."

- Chuck Ardo
Spokesman for
Gov. Ed Rendell
D'Elia and co-defendant Richard Smallacombe both pleaded innocent at their arraignment Wednesday and were released on the condition they have no contact with people named in the indictment.

According to the indictment, D'Elia and Smallacombe laundered hundreds of thousands of dollars in drug money from convicted trafficker John Doncses, allegedly by creating bogus companies, loans and consulting agreements that made it appear as if the money was legitimately earned.

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Thursday, June 01, 2006
Posted 7:30 PM by

Feds OK Exelon-PSEG merger, N.J. advocate against it

New Jersey and Pennsylvania ratepayers would get an estimated $12 annual reduction in their bills under the deal, which would give Exelon control over more than half of the power generation for the eastern U.S.

Under the proposed merger, Exelon Electric & Gas would have control over more than half of the electric power generation in the eastern U.S.The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission this week approved a merger between Public Service Enterprise Group Inc. and Exelon Corp.

The $12 billion stock deal, proposed in December, would make Exelon Electric & Gas the nation's largest electric company. The new company would provide power to 18 million people in Illinois, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Exelon already owns PECO Energy Co., formerly the Philadelphia Electric Co.

The NRC's blessing means Chicago-based Exelon can operate the four nuclear plants which Newark-based PSEG has a majority stake. They are: Hope Creek and the two Salem plants, all in Lower Alloways Creek, N.J., and Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station in Delta, Pa.

Commission spokesman Neil Sheehan told the Associated Press that the only criteria under consideration was whether Exelon, already the nation's largest owner of nuclear plants, could afford to safely operate and eventually decommission the four new plants.

Not whether they should operate the plants. Ronald Chen, New Jersey's public advocate, doesn't think so.

"This merger puts New Jersey consumers at great risk," Chen said last month, noting it would give the combined company such a large market share - an estimated 56 percent of all power generation on the eastern U.S. - that it could drive up energy prices for all New Jerseyans.

New Jersey's Division of Rate Counsel, which serves under Chen, has asked an administrative law judge to reject or make significant modifications to the proposed merger.

Among the rate counsel's key concerns: the merger proposal doesn't include a provision for a rate freeze or rate reductions, assistance for low-income ratepayers would disappear and there are no guarantees about customer service or reliability.

In order to get similar regulator approval in Pennsylvania last year, Exelon reached a settlement with critics which included the city of Philadelphia, labor and advocacy groups, and the state Department of Environmental Protection - Exelon promised to provide $120 million over four years in rate discounts for customers and cap its rates through the end of 2010.

After that, all bets are off and the company already plans to file for a rate increase in New Jersey.

Yet, based on the settlement, Pennsylvania administrative law judge Marlane R. Chestnut found the merger "is in the public interest, provides substantial, affirmative benefits, and is not likely to result in anticompetitive or discriminatory conduct or the unlawful exercise of market power in the retail electric and natural gas markets."

Not in Chen's eyes.

Chen said the offer "failed to even come close to offering New Jersey families and businesses the rate relief they deserve." If spread over four years, the rate counsel estimates a savings of about $12 a year per household.

PSEG spokesman Paul Rosengren said there was no way to calculate savings yet, but ratepayers are certain to see more savings under the proposed merger than without it.

New Jersey Public Advocate Ronald Chen said that while New Jersey ratepayers might see a $12 initial reduction in their electric bills, Exelon already plans to hike rates in a few years and would cut 950 jobs in the state.The merger could also result in the loss of up to 950 jobs in New Jersey, Chen said.

The administrative law judge is expected to make a recommendation to the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities on the deal sometime this month. The board's is expected to take until late summer to make its decision.


Wednesday, May 31, 2006
Posted 9:55 PM by

Ain't no sunshine in Pennsylvania

Not when the state Supreme Court can disregard both the state Constitution and the Legislature, render a decision that affects every Pennsylvanian and not explain why.

This is what Pennsylvania's open records access looks like from a citizen's point of view.First, the state Supreme Court pigeonholed a legislated change to the state's Open Records law for years that would have let taxpayers appeal to a district justice whenever they're denied a public record, rather than go through the expense of a county court hearing.

Now the justices have ignored the recommendations of their own committee and quietly killed the idea without any explanation.

Don't hold your breath waiting for one either.

It's been three weeks since the May 6 primary and we still don't know why all 67 counties in the state were forced to buy new electronic voting machines based on a one paragraph ruling from the high court in March, even though the state Constitution clearly required the change to be put on a referendum first.

Welcome to Pennsylvania, where justice and freedom of information are as dark and pricey as Chief Justice Ralph Cappy's robes.

This time, the gang of seven disregarded what the state Legislature wanted in 2002 when it passed H.B. 2100. The law was a revision of the state's Right-to-Know Law which would have let local magistrates, rather than Common Pleas Court judges, decide whether the records of school districts, municipalities and other non-state agencies should be deemed public records.

"The provision could have, if implemented, permitted citizens to obtain records without lengthy, costly litigation," said Pennsylvania Newspaper Association attorney Teri Henning, noting district justices can often handle cases quicker and would let people proceed without hiring a lawyer.

The change was supposed to take effect on Jan. 1, 2003, but the Supreme Court intervened and ordered its Minor Courts Rules Committee to write suggested guidelines on how the law should be implemented.

The committee, chaired by District Justice Thomas E. Martin Jr. of Chester County, did its job, proposing eight new rules and changes to two others in only a few months.

The high court, however, ignored the recommendations. And without any public announcement, the justices rendered a one-paragraph decision on May 16 that says only Common Pleas court judges should decide Right-to-Know cases.

Art Heinz, a spokesman for the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, told the Associated Press on Tuesday that the 2002 law would have required district judges to render written opinions.

"Magisterial district judges are not courts of record," Heinz said. "In other words, they don't craft opinions, and they're not set up to handle the type of litigation that these kinds of requests generate."

Apparently the historic ouster of Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice Russell Nigro last year by voters did not have a lasting effect on the high court. They still think the dome above their heads gives them the ability to supercede the state Constitution and the Legislature."I certainly hope the Supreme Court isn't concluding that magistrates are unable to render justice on these issues," Rep. John Maher, R-Allegheny County, told the AP. "They certainly field a wide variety of litigation at this point."

Maher plans to introduce a nearly identical bill that would adopt the Minor Courts Rules Committee's proposal but without requiring magistrates to issue written findings-of-fact in rendering a decision.


Tuesday, May 30, 2006
Posted 7:40 AM by

Rendell shouldn't sign Molly Maguires resolution

We have a modern name for people who protest perceived injustices by killing and blowing things up. We call them terrorists.

Black Jack Kehoe was supposedly the 'boss' of the Molly Maguires. He was buried in his wife's family plot in Tamaqua. In 1979, Governor Milton Shapp granted him a pardon posthumously.How can you tell it's been a rough election year in Pennsylvania?

The Legislature, that bastion of self-righteousness and indulgence, has unanimously proclaimed the Molly Maguires got a raw deal, boy-o.

State Sen. James J. Rhoades, R-Schuylkill, even went so far as to say, "There was a great injustice. People just got railroaded."

Of course, that declaration comes nearly 130 years too late for 20 Mollies who were hanged in Northeastern Pennsylvania between 1877 and 1879.

But it may help Margaret Juran, the great-great-granddaughter of John "Yellow Jack" Donahoe, obtain a posthumous pardon for him. He was hanged in Jim Thorpe in 1877.

That is, if the state and an appeals court stop bickering on whether the state parole board has to rule unanimously in such cases.

It didn't matter in 1979, when then-Gov. Milton J. Shapp pardoned John J. "Black Jack" Kehoe, a Molly executed for the 1862 killing of mine foreman Frank W.S. Langdon in Carbon County.

Kehoe's case was fictionalized in the 1970 movie "The Molly Maguires," which starred Sean Connery and the late Richard Harris.

Decades before the first unions fought successfully for the rights of coal miners, the Mollies, a group of Irish immigrants working in the state's coal region, expressed their anger over horrid and hazardous working conditions using explosives, knives and guns.

Formed as a secret sect of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Mollies blew up coal company trains and murdered executives and Pinkertons - who were nothing more than hired thugs - to make their point.

Not surprisingly, they were eventually infiltrated by a Pinkerton spy and arrested.

What happened next is what our state lawmakers now suddenly believe was an injustice, according to a resolution the Senate passed two weeks ago.

The resolution spends little time acknowledging guilt, saying, "occasional crimes were committed by some members of the Molly Maguires and by nonmembers against coal mine owners."

But its pretty specific about the crimes committed against the Mollies.

They were considered outlaws, thieves and murderers in their day by authorities, as this wanted poster attests, but the Mollie Maguires have been folk heroes for more than a hundred years in Pennsylvania. The state Legislature has finally woken up to that fact."Special prosecuting attorneys were used who were on the payrolls of railroad and mining companies, jury selection was conducted in a manner which ensured ethnic bigotry and bias, the trial judges were closely connected with the railroad and mining companies which instigated the investigations and trials, witnesses were intimidated to commit perjury against the defendants, and entrapment was used to accumulate evidence...."

In short, the miners got screwed. Their Constitutional rights were trampled and so were the ideas of due process and a fair trial.

The state House unanimously passed an identical resolution on Dec. 6, 2005, both of which ask Gov. Ed Rendell to acknowlege the injustice done to the Mollies.

Rendell now has staff lawyers reviewing the resolutions, according to the Allentown Morning Call.

If I were Rendell, I wouldn't sign it.

While I probably would have been done the same thing - sabotage and murder - if I had lived back in the Mollies' day, I would have known there might be a price to be paid.

We have a modern name for people who protest perceived injustices by killing and blowing things up.

We call them terrorists.

Guilty or not. Illegally tried or not. The state shouldn't condone the Mollies' behavior just to improve its own place in the history books.

A more fitting tribute to the Mollies' memory would be to raise the state's minimum wage, continue to improve the court's ability to free the wrongfully accused, tighten safety restrictions on mines and factories and provide at least moral support for the state's legal but struggling labor unions.


A good story with an excellent cast makes this DVD a must-buy. Although the true story has been fictionalized, it can still serve as a history lesson to today's youth about what life was like before labor unions.If you haven't seen it, you should really buy a copy of "The Molly Maguires" on DVD. Although it's loosely based on the truth, the film does an excellent job of spelling out what life was like for most Americans before labor unions. Sean Connery and Richard Harris are excellent as Jack Kehoe and the Pinkerton detective determined to get him at any cost. To read a review, click here. To buy the movie and books on the Mollies, click here.


Monday, May 29, 2006
Posted 10:44 AM by

A few things to think about on Memorial Day

Find the cost of freedom
Buried in the ground
Mother Earth will swallow you
Lay your body down

- Stephen Stills
of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

US Deaths in Iraq since March 20th, 2003

"The price of freedom is eternal vigilance."

- Thomas Jefferson


Sunday, May 28, 2006
Posted 9:38 PM by

Did Perzel help GEO reclaim Delco prison contract?

The George W. Hill Correctional Facility of Delaware County is the only privately-run prison in Pennsylvania.A prison management firm, which placed Pennsylvania House Speaker John Perzel on its board last year, has won a new pricier 19-month contract for the Delaware County Prison its been running for 10 years.

The county's Board of Prison Inspectors had hoped to save money by competitively bidding a management contract for the George W. Hill Correctional Facility, the only privately managed prison in the state.

Instead, the board unanimously agreed Thursday to shell out 10 percent more - an additional $300,000 a month - in the first year of the contract and another $100,000 a month on top of that during its last seven months, the Delaware County Times reported last week.

That means by Dec. 31, 2007 - the date the new contract ends - the county will be paying $3.1 million more monthly ($37.2 million per year) to Geo Group Inc. of Boca Raton, Fla., for continuing to run . The county currently pays $2.7 million monthly or $32.4 million per year.

"It's a very important facility for our company, and Delaware County is a long-term, esteemed client," GEO spokesman Pablo Paez told the newspaper. His company operates 61 correctional and residential treatment facilities in the United States, Australia, South Africa and the United Kingdom.

It's unclear what role, if any, Perzel had in swaying the prison board to pick Geo over a smaller rival company, Management and Training Corp. of Centerville, Utah.

Perzel received public scorn earlier this month when he was paid to attend a Geo board meeting at a luxury Boca Raton hotel while other House leaders debated and decided to table a vote on a statewide property tax reform bill the Senate already approved.

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.

Perzel is the only GEO director without an advanced degree beyond a bachelor's.

"I'd bet that most or all of the board had no idea" of Perzel's ties, Robert D'Orio, the prison board's solicitor, told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

However, county Republican party boss Charles P. Sexton Jr., the prison board's chairman who decided to bid the contract before retiring this year, certainly knew Perzel. They were both among Pennsylvania's 75 delegates to the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City.

The prison was already the highest expenditure in Delaware County's budget before the new contract was passed.

As costs there have gone up, the county has also lost revenues - up to $2 million a year - because it was forced to drop a contract to house up to 350 Philadelphia prisoners last year as the local prisoner population swelled.

"Even with their (GEO's) profits, it's still a figure that is less than it would cost if we ran it on our own," county Council Chairman Andrew Reilly told the Delco Times. "I wouldn't rule out taking it back in the future. It's something we’re going to look at every year."

A county take-over of the prison could mean additional employee pension, health-care costs as well as make the county liable for lawsuits stemming from inmates and their families, Reilly said.

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.


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