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Penn Hills lawmaker DeLuca scrutinized by grand jury

Tony LaRussa
| Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Three Penn Hills residents say they testified before a state grand jury investigating possible wrongdoing involving state Rep. Tony DeLuca.

Several other residents said they received subpoenas to appear before the grand jury but have not been called to testify. They said investigators with the office of Attorney General Tom Corbett interviewed them.

Corbett's office would not comment or confirm an investigation involving DeLuca.

DeLuca, a Penn Hills Democrat, denied any wrongdoing.

"If somebody files a complaint, it has to be investigated," DeLuca said. "But I've done nothing wrong. I have not been contacted by the attorney general's office, and nobody on my staff has been contacted."

DeLuca said any such investigation would be politically motivated.

"This is how the political game is played," he said. "But any accusations against me are false."

A House member since 1982, DeLuca has championed senior citizen and consumer issues, and chairs the House Insurance Committee. Though he sometimes takes part in House debates on statewide issues, DeLuca more often tends to matters affecting his district.

Corbett's office is investigating potential political corruption in the Legislature. During the past 18 months, scores of House Republican and Democratic staffers have received subpoenas to appear before a Harrisburg-based grand jury. The grand jury's proceedings are secret.

James Black, a member of the Penn Hills Planning Commission, said a state investigator questioned him at his home Jan. 8 about whether DeLuca used his influence to keep a local software company, Vocollect, from expanding its operations in Penn Hills.

"I told them that I believed Tony DeLuca used his influence to prevent the project from happening," said Black, who is running in the May 19 Democratic primary for a seat on Penn Hills Council. DeLuca's son, Anthony DeLuca, is in the second year of his second term as Penn Hills mayor.

"I told them that I thought Penn Hills had a puppet council and that (Rep.) DeLuca pulled the strings. I told them that no decision is made by council without Tony Sr. knowing about it," Black said.

Al Papa, chairman of the Penn Hills Planning Commission, said a state investigator interviewed him for a total of about six hours on two occasions in late January and early February.

Papa declined to detail questions he was asked or information he provided, except to say they discussed Vocollect and "wide-ranging activities" that could be construed as misuse of public office.

Vocollect, which makes voice recognition software, leases a building off Rodi Road on the border of Penn Hills and Wilkins, near an entrance to the Parkway East. For a number of years, the building's owner, Joseph D'Andrea, has asked Penn Hills for a zoning variance so the company can expand its operation.

Late last year, the planning commission approved a request to allow D'Andrea to add parking at the site, but council tabled the measure and has not rescheduled a vote on the matter.

D'Andrea said he showed investigators the Vocollect site. He considers himself a victim of DeLuca and efforts to keep Vocollect from expanding.

"You better believe he's the guy behind this," D'Andrea said. "I don't know the reason he got in the middle, but he did."

Peggy Denham, who is running for council as a Democrat, said she testified before the grand jury Jan. 8 in Pittsburgh, answering questions about DeLuca.

Denham said Monday she is worried about speaking publicly about her testimony because it might affect her job as a state auditor. She declined to offer detail about questions she was asked and information she provided.

Diane Fitzhenry, deputy clerk for Penn Hills, said she testified before the jury in early January but was told not to speak publicly about the case because the investigation is ongoing.

Erin Vecchio, who chairs the Penn Hills Democratic Committee and is a member of the Penn Hills School Board, said she testified before the grand jury Dec. 11 but was told not to discuss details of her testimony.

Vecchio said she was asked about possible "criminal activity and corruption."

Corbett charged 12 people with ties to the House Democratic Caucus with felonies in July, accusing them of doing political work with state resources. They included former Majority Whip Mike Veon of Beaver Falls, who awaits trial on charges of theft, conspiracy and conflict of interest.

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