Jail time awaits Veon after corruption conviction

| Wednesday, March 24, 2010

HARRISBURG — Attorney General Tom Corbett said Tuesday he expects a judge will sentence former House Democratic Whip Mike Veon to prison on multiple felony convictions but would not say what arguments his office might present for sentencing.

"Personally, yes," Corbett said when asked whether he believes Veon will draw a prison term. "We haven't said what we'll recommend."

A Dauphin County jury on Monday convicted Veon of public corruption charges that included misuse of $2 million in tax money, according to Corbett, a Republican candidate for governor. Veon remains free on bail. His sentencing is scheduled for May 21.

Veon could face a maximum prison term of 73 years for 13 felony counts and one misdemeanor, Corbett said. Former aides Annamarie Perretta-Rosepink and Brett Cott face 25 years and 17 years in prison, respectively. Jurors acquitted former aide Steve Keefer.

The jury acquitted Veon of 45 counts, Rosepink of 18, and Cott, 39.

"A conviction is a conviction," said Bruce Antkowiak, a former federal prosecutor who teaches at Duquesne University Law School. "And to a defendant who's never faced this before, one conviction has to be as painful as 10, 12 or 14."

"Is (Veon) going to serve the maximum• Of course not," said Montgomery County attorney Mark Schwartz, a former aide to the late Democratic House Speaker K. Leroy Irvis of Pittsburgh. "Is he going to be let off with a slap on the wrist ... a little sabbatical• I'd be surprised."

Corbett's public corruption unit next will go to court Friday for a preliminary hearing for a former Democratic lawmaker accused of using state employees instead of private firms to conduct "opposition research" on political challengers. Steve Stetler of York, a member of Gov. Ed Rendell's cabinet as revenue secretary until Corbett's office filed charges in December, maintains his innocence.

Corbett's three-year investigation into public corruption resulted in charges against 25 current and former public officials, including Veon and his aides. Court actions are planned soon for some:

• Veon and Rosepink are scheduled for an April 19 trial in Dauphin County on charges of misusing a nonprofit Veon founded — the Beaver Initiative for Growth — which received $10 million in state tax money over a decade.

• Ten Republicans, including former House Speaker John Perzel of Philadelphia, are scheduled for preliminary hearings April 21 on charges they diverted millions in state tax money for sophisticated computer programs and equipment designed to help Republicans win elections. The defendants say they are innocent.

• Former House Speaker Bill DeWeese, D-Greene County, faces a preliminary hearing May 12 on charges he used his district and Capitol offices and employees for his campaigns. DeWeese is running for re-election and holding a hearing six days before the May 18 primary election would be "unconscionable," said DeWeese's attorney William C. Costopoulos. He said he'll ask for it to be rescheduled.

"My hope is the attorney general's office will give this (Veon) verdict an honest read and review," Costopoulos said. "My hope is there can be some resolution for all of the remaining state representatives and workers, to end this seemingly endless stream of trials at enormous expense for the taxpayers.

"The number of acquittals is staggering," Costopoulos said.

Chuck Porter, a Pittsburgh defense attorney who is not involved in the cases, said this week's verdicts show jurors spent "a great deal of time to sort out the evidence." But, Porter said: "If the government were honest with you, they'd say they are not completely happy with the outcome."

Justice was served by the verdict, Corbett said. He said he hopes the convictions give Pennsylvanians "a little bit more faith in their government."

Corbett said his attorneys are paid whether they work on these cases or others, and the cost of prosecution is not "millions of dollars" as critics claim.

Corbett said 10 of 12 people charged in July 2008 with using taxpayer-paid bonuses for campaign work were convicted, including the three Monday night. Seven entered guilty pleas before Veon's trial. A jury acquitted former Rep. Sean Ramaley of Economy in December.

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