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Hard time is softer for some

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Saturday, March 1, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
 

The downsizing is unsettling.

How will people feel secure? Is there a way to guarantee our security if so many return to civilian life at once?

No, I'm not referring to the proposed Department of Defense reductions that would shrink the Army to its smallest size since World War II. I can see why you'd think that.

I'm referring to federal and state prisons dramatically downsizing the number of incarcerated former state lawmakers, before many of the convicts serve minimum sentences.

The early releases probably were inevitable. The people jailed after multiple public corruption probes several years ago were powerful. Did you really expect them to languish behind bars like far less well-connected inmates who never donned a John Varvatos suit?

Former Democratic state Sen. Vince Fumo of Philadelphia was the first to be sprung. Released in January, he served a mere 55 months following his 2009 federal conviction on an astounding 137 corruption counts.

Former Republican state Sen. Jane Orie of McCandless was next, trading her jail jumpsuit for more fashionable duds on Feb. 10. She got off lightly, serving 20 months of a 2½-to-10 year sentence for using her legislative staff for campaign purposes.

Next up: former House Speaker John Perzel of Philadelphia, who bilked taxpayers out of $10 million for computers and programs to aid Republicans. He served 24 months of a 2½-to-5 year sentence before his release on Thursday.

Former House Speaker Bill DeWeese of Greene County, who used public resources for campaign purposes, was given the same sentence as Perzel. He's scheduled to be released on March 28, more than six months prior to completing the minimum.

Orie, Perzel and DeWeese qualified for early release under a special state Department of Corrections program. It reduces minimum sentences for select nonviolent offenders whose misbehavior in prison is confined to cheating on crossword puzzles.

Former state Senate leader Robert Mellow of Lackawanna County, who in 2012 pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return and conspiracy to commit mail fraud, will leave prison this month. He will have served 12 months of his 14-month federal sentence, which constitutes cruel and unusual punishment compared to the early bird sentence specials enjoyed by Orie, Perzel and DeWeese.

When Mellow is released, it will be at least another year before two other former lawmakers snared in the corruption probes — Mike Veon of Beaver County and Brett Feese of Lycoming County — leave the lockup.

Still, the floodgates have opened. Pennsylvanians whose trust was betrayed are ankle-deep in the detritus of the supposedly paid debts to society by these white-collar criminals.

Consider the ruined shoes and sludge-stained pants their parting gifts to you.

Eric Heyl is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7857 or eheyl@tribweb.com.

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