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E-mail may tie DeWeese to scandal

HARRISBURG — An e-mail provided to defense attorneys in the so-called Bonusgate case might contradict former House Democratic Leader Bill DeWeese's longstanding claim that he knew nothing about state-paid bonuses for campaign work.

In December 2004, an e-mail written by legislative research analyst Karen Steiner thanked DeWeese, D-Greene County, and then-House Democratic Whip Mike Veon of Beaver Falls for a "bonus for campaigning." DeWeese responded with "U R welcome," copies of the exchange obtained by the Tribune-Review show.

Prosecutors provided the e-mail to defense attorney Bryan Walk, who represents former House Democrat staffer Brett Cott on charges of theft and conflict of interest, Walk confirmed.

"These (e-mails) came to us as part of discovery from the attorney general's office," Walk said today.

Steiner could not be reached for comment. The amount of the bonus she received in December 2004 could not be immediately determined.

The e-mail is among 25,000 Walk has received from Attorney General Tom Corbett's office, which is prosecuting the case.

"It's my understanding that other defense attorneys also received this information," Cott said Sunday night.

A spokesman said DeWeese did not recall the e-mail.

"Given the volume of e-mail that comes to him and given that some of it is handled by staff, Bill does not recall this e-mail," said spokesman Tom Andrews. "At the time responding kindly to one of many 'thank yous' for Christmas bonuses would have been a routine matter."

Andrews said there was "overwhelming evidence" in the information provided to prosecutors that DeWeese didn't know about the bonuses. He has not been charged with wrongdoing.

A dozen people with ties to the House Democratic Caucus, including two former lawmakers, are awaiting trial on multiple charges stemming from the bonus payments. DeWeese's former chief of staff, Mike Manzo, has agreed to plead guilty for helping to direct the bonus scheme.

Manzo testified in November that he believed DeWeese knew about the bonus program.

DeWeese's lawyer, Bill Chadwick, recovered the e-mails and turned them over to prosecutors, Andrews said.

Corbett's office continues to investigate alleged corruption in the Legislature.

Corbett's spokesman, Kevin Harley, last night declined to say whether DeWeese is in the clear.

In all, House and Senate Democrats and Republicans doled out $3.6 million in taxpayer-funded bonuses in 2005 and 2006. Corbett said more charges will be filed.

Steiner has told the grand jury that "from the interview on" it was made clear that campaign work would be part of her job.

While the amount of her 2004 bonus was not immediately available, Steiner received a $15,000 bonus in 2006.

Steiner was not charged with wrongdoing. She now works for House Speaker Keith McCall, D-Carbon County.

The legislative research office was a focal point of Corbett's investigation. He served a warrant to seize records from the office in August 2007.

DeWeese over the past week has been embroiled in a controversy over the file his attorney, Chadwick, compiled as a result of an internal investigation. DeWeese, now the majority whip, directed Chadwick to adhere to attorney-client privilege and keep the material confidential.

Majority Leader Todd Eachus requested the file. When Chadwick repeatedly refused to provide it, the House Democratic Caucus sued to obtain the file.

DeWeese said he promised confidentiality to more than 200 staffers who came forward with information on the bonus program.

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