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Sources: Pa. GOP senators in clear

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Thursday, July 12, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
 

HARRISBURG — The state attorney general's investigation of legislative corruption that began in 2007 found no substantial evidence of wrongdoing among Senate Republicans, sources close to the investigation say.

Though the investigation has been inactive for more than a year, and records show the last legal bill paid to an outside law firm defending the Senate was in December 2010, the Attorney General's Office won't say publicly that it has cleared Senate Republicans.

“We will not have any comment,” said spokesman Nils Frederiksen.

The investigation technically isn't closed, because the office could apply an extension covering elected officials to the statute of limitations that expired for theft, conflict of interest and conspiracy charges used to prosecute other lawmakers.

What happened to the investigation of Senate Republicans remains water-cooler talk at the Capitol and gives fodder to critics of Gov. Tom Corbett, a Shaler Republican who was attorney general when the investigation began. The Republican-controlled Senate in May 2011 confirmed his hand-picked successor, Linda Kelly of Edgewood. She refused an interview.

“It does obviously raise eyebrows, in the broader perspective,” said Christopher Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown. “What was it about that (Senate GOP) caucus? Did they have higher ethical standards, or were they better at masking it?”

In 2007, Corbett pledged to investigate “all four caucuses” in the Legislature. His spokesman Kevin Harley said Corbett “directed career and professional prosecutors and agents on this investigation who were not influenced by party or politics.”

Yet Republican Sen. John Eichelberger, a fiscal and social conservative from Blair County who requested the investigation, told the Tribune-Review on Wednesday that he believes the lack of action by the office is politically motivated.

“I've never been interviewed,” said Eichelberger, who in 2007 could name times and places where he saw aides of former Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer, R-Altoona, campaigning in Cambria County races, including his own. He concedes his memory of those events now is not as good.

Eichelberger defeated Jubelirer in the 2006 Republican primary. Jubelirer and his former chief of staff Mike Long declined comment for this story.

Bonuses trigger probe

The legislative investigation, triggered by the discovery of bonuses paid in secret to lawmakers' staffers, focused on the use of public resources for campaigns. Prosecutors found no proof of a caucus-wide scheme in the Senate, as they uncovered among Democrats and Republicans in the House, said sources close to the investigation.

Prosecutors could have pursued potential cases involving individual senators' district office operations but those cases would have been minimal compared to cases that arose from House caucuses, sources said.

Former Senate GOP leaders quietly authorized payment of $366,000 in bonuses to staff in 2005-2006, though most staffers who received bonuses did not work on campaigns and the caucus gave them substantial bonuses in the previous, non-election year.

In the House Democratic Caucus, bonuses for campaign work became a central thread of prosecutions, though they weren't when House Republicans were prosecuted for a computerized campaign scheme.

Still, Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon, who came in as a freshman with Eichelberger in 2007, thinks “it's kind of surprising” that no Senate Republicans faced prosecution, although he said many Republican senators didn't know about the bonuses paid in 2005-2006.

Asked whether he thinks prosecutors lacked evidence or gave the caucus a pass, Folmer said: “I don't know. It would be a tough call to make.”

Folmer defeated former Majority Leader David Brightbill, R-Lebanon, who declined comment.

Corbett did begin an investigation of the Senate Republican Caucus, and the caucus paid $2.5 million to a private law firm during the investigation. But Corbett maintained that investigators needed to focus on House Democrats first, because they spent $2.3 million on bonuses and tried to destroy evidence.

The Senate GOP investigated internally, using the Conrad O'Brien law firm in Philadelphia. Matt Haverstick, a lawyer who led the team, declined to comment. The firm gave its findings to the Attorney General's Office, whose agents conducted separate interviews.

Dems felled by emails

If wrongdoing occurred, Senate leaders left no apparent paper trail. Jubelirer, Long, Brightbill and general counsel Stephen MacNett, who worked for Brightbill, used email sparingly, if at all.

Incriminating emails and corroborating testimony gave prosecutors much of their case against House Democrats. Their evidence against House Republicans included contracts, emails and testimony.

Long had a policy of requiring leave slips before people could campaign, sources said. He took part-time pay and leave time to work on Jubelirer's 2006 primary race.

An official statement from the Senate in 2011 said prosecutors subpoenaed no one from the caucus in their investigation, but several people voluntarily testified before the grand jury, including MacNett.

MacNett now works for Conrad O'Brien, the firm whose work he oversaw as the Senate's top lawyer. Jubelirer is a partner with Obermayer Rebman Maxwell & Hippel and heads the firm's government affairs office in Harrisburg. Brightbill is “of counsel” with Stevens & Lee law firm and a lobbyist.

Long is a lobbyist with his firm, Long Nyquist & Associates, and a political consultant through Campaign Strategic Solutions. He runs Senate Republican campaigns.

Four senators were charged with crimes, but not by the attorney general.

A jury in March convicted former Republican Sen. Jane Orie of McCandless in a campaign-related corruption case brought by Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. The FBI charged ex-Democratic senators Vincent Fumo of Philadelphia and Bob Mellow of Lackawanna County. Bribery-related charges brought by the FBI against former Democratic Sen. Ray Musto are pending.

Brad Bumsted is state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com.

 

 

 
 


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