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

Monday, July 14, 2008
Posted 11:59 PM by

I apologize Mr. DeWeese

House Majority Leader H. William DeWeese (left) has not been charged with any wrongdoing. His former top aide and former House minority whip Mike Veon (right) have.Only my second blog back from a long hiatus and I find myself unprecentedly apologizing to the still-somewhat-honorable H. William DeWeese, majority leader of the Pennsylvania House.

Not bad.

DeWeese was not indicted by a state grand jury last week as another blogger predicted he might be.

Instead, state Attorney General Tom Corbett completed the first phase of his investigation by filing charges against former Beaver County legislator Mike Veon, Rep. Sean Ramaley, D-Beaver, and 10 former or suspended House Democratic staffers for taxpayer-funded bonuses paid to legislative staffers for campaign work as well as other political work done on the taxpayers' dime.

All were arraigned in Harrisburg on Friday.

Among them was Mike Manzo, DeWeese's former chief of staff, who also faces charges of handing a do-nothing job to Angela Bertugli, a former office intern he was "shtupping," as Inquirer columnist Stu Bykofky called it.

The Pittsburgh Tribune Review has even run a profile of the former small-town beauty queen. In that article, DeWeese, the loquacious House party leader and family friend who brought Bertugli to Harrisburg, was at a loss for words. "I'm heartbroken," he said Friday in an e-mail to the newspaper.

Before you go feeling sorry for the guy, factor this into your thinking:

  • DeWeese and Veon were the only two state representatives who voted against repealing the pay raise lawmakers gave themselves in 2005.
  • They have also been among the chief supporters of casino gambling in Pennsylvania and were important cogs in the fledgling industry's lobbying and campaign contribution efforts.
  • DeWeese has said he acted aboveboard in all matters and expects to be cleared. He has portrayed himself, in public statements and through subordinates, as a hands-off leader who left the details to Veon, according to the Tribune-Review.

That's karma, Bill. What you put out into the ether will inevitably come back and bite hard.

I don't know whether to congratulate Corbett for not overreaching and arraigning DeWeese without the Bonusgate evidence to back it up, or whether another prosecutorial shoe may eventually drop from the Feds.

Lord knows, it would be long overdue. Slotsylvania needs an anema, not just a sex scandal.

That's because Corbett, who eyes the governors' mansion himself, accepted at least $35,000 in campaign contributions from a now-indicted slots parlor owner, Louis DeNaples, while running for attorney general.

Corbett says he won't give the money back unless DeNaples is convicted of lying to the state Gambling Control Board about his association with two mob bosses and two political fixers.

The Bonusgate scandal is but an ice cube compared to the titantic iceberg of legalized corruption the DeNaples case represents. Not only did Corbett, the state's top law enforcement officer, take money from DeNaples, so did Gov. Ed Rendell, judges, lawmakers and party leaders on both sides of the aisle.

In fact, DeNaples spread more than $1 million in campaign cash around in the years running up to the midnight passage of the 2004 law that legalized slot machine gambling in Pennsylvania and his eventual state license to operate the $415 million Mount Airy Casino Resort in the Poconos.

However, the Dauphin County District Attorney's case against the Dunmore billionaire isn't proceeding nearly as fast as DeNaples' case against him and the media.

To prove their assertion that grand jury leaks have tainted the case against their client, DeNaples' lawyers have subpoenaed 15 reporters from six news organizations - including 10 from The Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News. Lawyers for the news organizations have asked the judge to throw out all the subpoenas for journalists, saying that the state's shield law protects them from having to identify confidential sources.

The shield law states that no reporter "shall be required to disclose the source of any information procured or obtained by such person, in any legal proceeding, trial or investigation before any government unit."

On top of this travesty taking place in a mysteriously closed court, DeNaples' attorney, former federal prosecutor Sal Cognetti Jr., was able to legally obtain the cell phone records for the Dauphin County district attorney, his chief deputy, and two troopers assigned to an organized-crime unit without telling the prosecutors or police.

Francis Chardo, the first assistant prosecutor in Dauphin County and one of the prosecutors whose records were disclosed, was outraged. "This could get somebody killed," Chardo said of the precedent being set.

Cognetti successfully prosecuted DeNaples for felony fraud as an assistant U.S. attorney back in the '70s. He was also one of two law enforcement officials to vouch for him when he applied for his slots parlor license.

The other was U.S. Attorney Thomas Marino, who was supposed to be building a new federal case against DeNaples when the former felon used him as a reference for his casino license. Marino then quit his public post and joined DeNaples' legal team.

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