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Witness: Nonprofit's South Side office was empty, idle

| Friday, Feb. 24, 2012

HARRISBURG — Angela Bertugli, a research analyst for House Democrats, said when she first started work in 2005 she was assigned to a space above a cigar store on the South Side, which other witnesses identified as an office paid for by the Beaver Initiative for Growth.

But Bertugli testified today she didn't see any evidence of work being done at the BIG office.

Former Rep. Mike Veon faces 19 criminal charges for misusing the nonprofit BIG's funds. His trial is in its fifth day in Dauphin County Court.

Veon, 55, formerly the number-two House Democratic leader, is serving a 6- to 14-year prison term on theft-related charges for approving $1.4 million in bonuses used as an incentive to get legislative staffers to work on campaigns.

What prosecutors and defense lawyers did not tell the jury was that Bertugli told investigators she was hired for the Pittsburgh job as a legislative employee because she was having sex with Michael Manzo, chief of staff for former House Democratic leader Bill DeWeese, of Greene County, according to a 2008 grand jury report and testimony at Veon's 2010 bonus trial. Manzo, who is married, continued to have relations with Bertugli whenever he visited Pittsburgh, the grand jury said.

In the bonus case, Bertugli told investigators she had "nothing to do 70 percent of the time" in her taxpayer-paid job. In graduate school at the time, Bertugli frequently did her homework in the cigar store office. At the time, Manzo claimed she was manning the newly created "Pittsburgh Field Office" of the Allegheny County delegation.

Bertugli's and Manzo's testimony today was narrowly focused. It was an attempt by prosecutors to show the South Side office was an abuse of non-profit funds. Manzo testified for six days at the bonus trial and about an hour this morning. Bertugli was on the stand less than an hour.

It was Bertugli's first public testimony since the bonus case began in 2008.

The only sign of BIG, she said, was a cable bill to BIG slipped under the door.

Bertugli, who just completed law school, testified she received no phone calls at the office and there were no BIG signs. Veon visited twice, though she was technically an employee of DeWeese. Veon sat at a desk and made some phone calls, she said.

It was a temporary office, she testified on cross examination, until office space could be located Downtown. She worked for about four months above the cigar store.

Bertugli is still a House employee.

Manzo testified today that Veon and DeWeese had a "power sharing agreement," but Veon's office was the primary contact for a development company pivotal in Veon's trial.

Proposals for contracts with Delta Development and House Democrats came from "the whip's office" — meaning the former Democratic Whip, Veon, Manzo said.

Prosecutors claim Veon used his influence to get a $160,000 salary with Delta for his brother, Mark Veon. Mike Veon's lawyers deny the charge.

Jeffrey Foreman, Veon's former chief of staff, testified yesterday that he went to a Delta executive at Veon's behest to tell him Veon wanted a six-figure-plus salary for his brother. Veon's lawyers say they will refute that in the defense phase of the trial.

BIG paid Delta $1 million in contracts, prosecutors said.

Manzo pleaded guilty to 10 felonies in the bonus case and is awaiting sentencing. He's cooperating with prosecutors under a plea deal.

"You're a felon. You admitted to the court you admitted to 10 felonies?" said Veon's lawyer Joel Sansone. "Yes," Manzo replied.

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