Unprecedented convictions' lessons learned?
By Brad Bumsted
Published: Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, 8:57 p.m.
The year 2012 brought to a close one of the most sordid chapters in Pennsylvania history, which resulted in the conviction of eight legislative leaders over a four-year period.
Eight ex-leaders being convicted is unprecedented. It totally rearranged the power structure of leadership.
Have things drastically improved? “Drastically” is the operative word. In short, no. But what's different in the long run is that the iron grip that longtime leaders held over the rank and file has been, to a degree, diminished.
No single investigative agency brought this about. The Attorney General's Office under Republican former AG and now Gov. Tom Corbett and his appointed successor, Linda Kelly, accounted for five of the eight convictions. The feds took down the most powerful leader of all, in my view, ex-Sen. Vincent Fumo, a Philadelphia Democrat who is serving a 60-month sentence in a federal prison in Kentucky.
Fumo defrauded a nonprofit group, for which he had secured millions of tax dollars, and used taxpayers' money to pay legislative staff and contractors as if it were his own. His employees did everything from balancing his checkbook to developing his gentleman's farm near Halifax.
Once the FBI had its foot in the door of the Senate Democratic Caucus, the feds, in what looked like a trade-off or quiet agreement with the AG, charged two Democrat state senators — one of them former leader Bob Mellow, of Scranton, who faces sentencing on Friday.
Other developments this year:
• Former Senate Majority Whip Jane Orie, R-McCandless, was convicted of using her state-paid staff for her own campaigns and for her sister Joan Orie Melvin's state Supreme Court election in 2009. The prosecution was brought by Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala, a Democrat. Joan Orie Melvin, who also was charged, maintains her innocence and awaits trial next year.
• Former House Speaker Bill DeWeese, D-Greene County, was convicted of using his legislative staff to work on his campaigns. He was sentenced to two and a half to five years in prison.
• Former House Democratic Whip Mike Veon, formerly of Beaver Falls, was sentenced to an additional one to four years in prison for misusing a nonprofit he created. That added on to his six-to-14-year sentence for approving the use of taxpayers' money for bonuses for staffers who worked on Democrat campaigns.
• Former Republican House Speaker John Perzel was sentenced to two and a half to five years in a $10 million computer scam that amounted to theft of tax dollars; former Republican Whip Brett Feese, of Lycoming County, drew a four-to-12-year sentence in the same scam, and former House Democratic Policy Chairman Steve Stetler is serving a one-and-a-half-to-five-year sentence for abusing public resources.
No GOP senators other than Orie were ever charged. The Attorney General's Office investigated the caucus but declined to file charges.
Whether lawmakers have learned the lessons from these scandals is anyone's guess. They say so, but time will tell.
Brad Bumsted is the state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media (717-787-1405 or firstname.lastname@example.org).
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Kovacevic: Why give credence to Heisman?
- Pirates sign free agent pitcher Volquez
- Century III new owner seeks to reverse vacancy trend with new theater
- Motivated quarterback Roethlisberger fights to prop up Steelers
- Penguins center Sutter is thriving despite unsettled 3rd line
- Health-insurance mandate poses potential hitch for volunteer fire companies
- Pitt’s Donald wins Lombardi Award
- Baldwin-Whitehall School Board eliminates controversial administrative position
- Pirates not yet talking extensions with Alvarez, Walker
- Driver just misses hitting Latrobe officer
- Steelers notebook: Worilds loses sack; Big Ben gets 1st career catch