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'Hey, it's Bill Deweese ...' (expletives deleted)

| Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

HARRISBURG

The call came in from Cell Block B at State Correctional Institution Retreat.

The caller was inmate KN1888, better known as Bill DeWeese. For decades, he served as the Democrats' leader of some rank and in his heyday served as House speaker.

He was called a “common thief” by a state prosecutor at his 2012 trial, where the Waynesburg native was convicted of five felonies for using taxpayer resources for campaigns. He was sentenced to 2½ to 5 years in prison.

DeWeese phoned into a party here last week honoring former Capitolwire Bureau Chief Peter DeCoursey, a respected journalist who died on New Year's Day. The scene fittingly was Ceoltas, an Irish pub on Second Street.

Charlie Gerow, a Republican consultant, turned toward me, handing me his cellphone, saying, “Someone wants to talk to you.”

It was DeWeese. He is potentially two months away from parole. He is paying respects to DeCoursey — in his own way. “I wanted to talk to you at DeCoursey's event,” he told me, “because you and Pete (expletive deleted) me my whole career.”

Pete would have loved that.

I had some responsibility in DeWeese dialing in. A week before, I ran into a former top staffer of his working part time at a department store and told her about the event to honor Pete and begin funds for his two kids' college educations. I told her people probably would like to hear from him.

Far more than any other of the eight convicted legislative leaders, DeWeese was liked by a lot of people in both parties and in the extended legislative community. He kept in touch with many of them with his allotted calls from prison. Lobbyists, staffers, reformers visited him at Retreat, which is no retreat.

I asked if he liked my book, “Keystone Corruption,” which devotes two chapters to the “Prince of the House.” My publisher sent him a copy. Yes, he said, he liked it — other than me saying he's a megalomaniac.

Oh, yeah, that. Actually, the book says he was “teetering on the edge of megalomania.” I get the point though.

DeWeese's big concern is getting out to see his mother, Dotty, in her 90s and not well. I hope that works out for them.

DeWeese then talked to Amy Worden of The Philadelphia Inquirer. She said he told her DeCoursey “was unmerciful when I behaved badly and shared it with 12 million Pennsylvanians.”

“Life at Hunlock Creek (Retreat) was not as bad as being (expletive deleted) by DeCoursey,” DeWeese told Worden.

The reminder of DeWeese's upcoming early release, following the parole of two former House staffers — Mike Manzo and Brian Preski — and ex-Sen. Vincent Fumo last year, seemed to signal the beginning of the end of the state's corruption epidemic. But not quite.

Rep. Jose P. Miranda, a freshman Democrat of Philadelphia, last week was arrested for allegedly having a “ghost employee” on payroll to funnel money to his sister.

Just when you think it's over ... .

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter (717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com).

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