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Three aides to plead guilty to misusing public money for political purposes

HARRISBURG — Three aides of former House Speaker John Perzel will enter guilty pleas to felony charges, the attorney general's office said today.

One of those top aides, Samuel "Buzz" Stokes, allegedly was a "ghost employee" who collected a check from taxpayers while directing Perzel's House campaigns, according to a November 2009 grand jury presentment.

Theirs will be the first pleas among 10 Republican defendants charged with using public resources for campaigns. Prosecutors allege Perzel, 61, was the architect of a scheme to divert $10 million in tax money for sophisticated computer equipment and programs to assist GOP campaigns, including his own. He has denied the charges.

"I was not anticipating pleas from these three and I am interested in knowing what counts they're pleading to," said Donna McClellan, a Greensburg lawyer representing another former Perzel aide, Al Bowman, who is charged in the case.

The attorney general's office at this point is not specifying the charges for which pleas will be entered.

Perzel, of Philadelphia, could not be reached. But he told the Philadelphia Daily News this morning he was not considering a plea deal. The newspaper said Perzel seemed surprised to hear news that three former aides were pleading guilty.

Those slated for pleas tomorrow in Dauphin County Court are Perzel's brother-in-law, Stokes, 68, of Philadelphia, and Don McClintock, 36, of Vorhees, N.J., according to a spokesman for Attorney General Linda Kelly. On Friday, Perzel's former chief of staff, Paul Towhey, is scheduled to enter a guilty plea, said Nils Frederiksen, Kelly's spokesman.

Stokes' position as a state-paid House Republican Caucus employee was hidden from nearly all of Perzel's Capitol staff and his district office staff, according to the presentment. Stokes faces 42 felony charges including theft, conflict of interest and conspiracy.

Stokes was paid $196,808 in taxpayer money but there was little evidence he ever did legislative work, the presentment said.

McClintock was Perzel's campaign office manager. He was not on the state payroll. He faces 18 felonies, including conflict of interest, theft and conspiracy.

Towhey, of Blue Bell, Montgomery County, faces similar charges and charges of obstruction. Among the 28 felony charges against him, one is for obstructing administration of law and another for hindering apprehension or prosecution.

"The guilty pleas announced today by the Office of Attorney General do not come as a surprise," said William Fetterhof, a Harrisburg attorney representing Jill Seaman, one of the other nine defendants. "I do not expect these guilty pleas will have any effect on the trial of Mrs. Seaman" scheduled next month, Fetterhof said.

Perzel still is officially scheduled for trial on Sept. 12.

Perzel, who served 32 years in the House, is collecting a state pension of $85,644 per year after getting an upfront, lump-sum payment of $203,936, state pension officials confirmed last week.

He was speaker from 2003 to 2007 and previously served as Republican floor leader in the House.

His attorney Brian McMonagle, of Philadelphia, could not be reached last week or on Monday.

Only nine of the 10 original GOP defendants were slated for trial next month. Another defendant, John Zimmerman, had his case separated from the rest. Zimmerman is charged with two counts related to obstruction of justice.

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