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DeWeese aide was fundraiser, consultant says

| Thursday, Oct. 16, 2008

HARRISBURG -- An aide who raised campaign money for House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese is cooperating with prosecutors in a state grand jury's legislative corruption investigation, the Tribune-Review has learned.

Kevin Sidella has testified before a Harrisburg grand jury investigating the use of public employees for political campaigns, said his lawyer Nick Rodriguez-Cayro.

"My client is not the target of the Office of Attorney General's investigation and has been cooperating fully with the (office) for nearly a year," Rodriguez-Cayro said in an e-mail.

The grand jury will take more testimony today. Its deliberations are secret.

"Because of the ongoing nature of this investigation, my client will not make any additional comments regarding this matter, and will instead allow the professionals at the (attorney general's office) to do their job," Sidella's lawyer said.

Sidella while a state employee handled campaign fundraising for DeWeese, Pittsburgh businessman Jamie Rossell told the Trib. Rossell, who held a technology contract with House Democrats, said he didn't know Sidella was a state aide when he dealt with him on campaign finance matters during regular business hours in the Capitol in 2006. He said he assumed Sidella was a private contractor like himself.

Rossell, who claims House Democrats owe him money, said DeWeese told him to deal with Sidella on fundraising matters.

Rossell was granted immunity to testify before the grand jury in June.

DeWeese, D-Greene County, denied any wrongdoing through a top aide and a caucus lawyer. DeWeese has not been charged in the investigation.

"DeWeese is the most-investigated guy on the landscape," said attorney William Chadwick, a consultant for House Democrats. The grand jury "turned over every stone" in July and did not implicate DeWeese in any wrongdoing, Chadwick said

Sidella was DeWeese's campaign treasurer, a job he held while drawing a paycheck as a research analyst on DeWeese's staff. He is now a consultant to the DeWeese campaign with WS Group, a company he founded after leaving DeWeese's staff in October 2007. His company handles fundraising for DeWeese.

Sidella had a full-time job with the caucus as a research analyst handling nominations to boards and commissions and constituent work, said Sandy Williams, DeWeese's chief of staff. Williams said he reported directly to Mike Manzo, DeWeese's former chief of staff.

Manzo has agreed to plead guilty to several felonies in connection with the investigation..

"When (Sidella) did political work off-site, Bill was insistent he have leave slips," Williams said. The leave slips document an employee's use of accrued time from vacation days, sick time and compensatory days.

Manzo testified last week during a preliminary hearing that DeWeese knew bonuses were used as incentives to get staffers to work on campaigns. DeWeese denied the allegations.

Campaign work by state employees during regular hours typically is illegal, unless an employee uses the lunch hour or takes leave time. If the activity of campaigning on state time is pervasive, the person could be charged with a crime, according to prosecutors.

Generally, "state time is supposed to be for state work," said John Contino, executive director of the state Ethics Commission.

House Democratic staffers work from 8:30 or 9 a.m. to 4:30 or 5 p.m. They frequently stay later and can get compensatory time with a supervisor's approval.

A state Superior Court decision holds that an elected state representative is "not allowed to direct state employees under his authority to conduct campaign or fundraising-related work during state time for his personal benefit," Attorney General Tom Corbett said in July when announcing a grand jury accusation that 12 House Democrats did political work on state time.

Using state employees for campaign work while they're being paid by the state amounts to "free campaign work funded by the taxpayers," Corbett said, citing the court's ruling that upheld the 2005 conviction of former Republican state Rep. Jeffrey Habay of Shaler on a charge of conflict of interest. Habay was prosecuted for using his staff for campaign and fundraising work.

The grand jury alleged that one of those charged with theft, conspiracy and conflict of interest in July, House Democratic aide Patrick J. Lavelle, had the "primary responsibility" of raising campaign money in the Capitol. Lavelle, a research analyst paid $75,640 in salary and bonuses in 2006, has agreed to plead guilty to four of six felonies and is cooperating with prosecutors. He testified in open court last week that raising campaign money was his state job and that he reported directly to ex-Democratic Whip Mike Veon.

Kevin Harley, a spokesman for Corbett, declined to comment about Sidella.

In his state job, Sidella was paid $81,500 a year. He received a $20,185 taxpayer-financed bonus in 2006.

State-paid bonuses to legislative staffers for campaign work sparked Corbett's public corruption investigation in 2007.

Rodriguez-Cayro declined to comment on Rossell's assertion that Sidella dealt with campaign fundraising in his Capitol office.

The grand jury report described Sidella as one of a cadre of "rock star-level campaigners" in the caucus. The grand jury said most in this group used "comp time" to campaign in a special Senate election in Allegheny County in 2005.

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