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Mellow case thin on details

| Sunday, May 20, 2012, 8:44 a.m.

HARRISBURG - Former Senate Democratic Leader Bob Mellow is guilty of something. That much we do know.

We also know it is serious.

It's a felony.

He signed a plea agreement with the federal government filed with the U.S. District Court in Scranton on March 15.

Two weeks ago, he entered a guilty plea to "conspiring to commit an offense against the United States and to defraud the United States."

Mellow, 69, of Lackawanna County, served in the Pennsylvania Legislature for 39 years.

He is former president pro tempore of the Senate.

He was an "icon" in his district, officials say.

There's even a park named for him in Scranton.

In 2005, he was one of the legislative leaders who backed the middle-of-the night pay-jacking that had to be repealed four months later in the face of rampant voter anger.

We know Mellow's plea involved mail fraud, filing a false tax return and using Senate resources -- his district office- - for campaigns.

He faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Beyond that we don't know much.

It was a guilty plea skimpy on the facts.

What kind of deal did the feds cut?

It includes a clause that says specific "legal and factual" issues regarding Mellow's conduct will be determined at a pre-sentence hearing or at his sentencing hearing.

It's alleged he used Senate staffers to do campaign work.

But we don't know who they are and whether they still work for the Senate Democratic Caucus.

We don't know how often they did it or on what dates.

We don't know who in his staff ordered them to do it.

We don't know how much state time through their salaries was stolen.

We don't know whether state resources were used -- phones, fax machines, computers.

By definition "conspiring" means a deal with others.

Who were they?

Who were the unindicted co-conspirators?

The public draws a big zero in the federal system where Mellow had waived an indictment and pleaded guilty to a "felony information."

At least we know the activity occurred from 2006 through 2010.

We know it took place in his two district offices and Harrisburg.

In numerous state corruption cases, grand jury presentments laid out in detail which legislative staffers conspired with legislative leaders to commit crimes.

People who weren't charged and were potential witnesses were publicly identified.

You knew who did what and when, at least in the form of an allegation.

Because the two prosecutors involved in this -- U.S. Attorney Peter Smith and Assistant U.S. Attorney Francis P. Zempa -- are two of the straightest arrows to serve in that office, expect everything that occurred to eventually be made public. Smith is a former state inspector general and was chief investigator for Sen. Bob Casey when he was state auditor general.

But right now, the public is getting shortchanged.

That must change.

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