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Ex-BIG exec: Veon nonprofit, legislative funds were intertwined

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Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012

HARRISBURG -- The Beaver Initiative for Growth was so entwined with former House Democratic Whip Mike Veon's legislative operations that a former executive director of the nonprofit said he also was Veon's legislative aide, and taxpayers paid a portion of his salary.

Thomas A. Woodske testified Tuesday that two other employees had salaries split between the state and the nonprofit known as BIG, which was the landlord for two of Veon's district legislative offices. They physically shared office space in Beaver Falls, witnesses said, and BIG paid for Veon's Midland office.

Woodske was the second executive director of BIG to testify at Veon's trial, which will enter its third day today in Dauphin County Court. Veon, who is accused of misusing BIG funds, faces 19 criminal charges, including conflict of interest and theft.

Veon, 55, the former No. 2 leader in the House Democratic Caucus, is serving a six- to 14-year sentence. In March 2010, a jury convicted him of 13 felonies and a misdemeanor for using public resources for campaigns and having a conflict of interest as a legislator.

Woodske testified he found out after the fact that BIG paid a $4,000 legal retainer to Jeffrey Foreman, Veon's chief of staff in Harrisburg who had a private law practice. Foreman could testify today.

In many cases, Woodske was told to sign contracts but knew nothing about them. He said he signed a contract for a BIG office on the South Side, even though the nonprofit created to stimulate economic development in Beaver County had no Pittsburgh projects, Woodske said.

He testified BIG hired his son Dan as marketing director at his recommendation.

Woodske said he still knows of nothing inappropriate about being a dual nonprofit, state employee.

Woodske said Veon; his co-defendant, Annamarie Perretta-Rosepink; and Foreman asked him to sign many contracts but that he played no role in negotiating them.

One of those contracts was with Delta Development of Mechanicsburg, which he said had a good reputation in economic development circles. Delta got more than $1 million from BIG, prosecutors say.

Woodske testified he learned from another BIG employee that Mike Veon's brother, Mark, worked for Delta in its Cranberry office. Woodske said he ran into Mark Veon there one day but couldn't remember the date.

Delta paid Mark Veon $160,000 a year, prosecutors say.

Mark Veon typically didn't work on BIG projects, Woodske added. His name turned up on one invoice, and BIG Finance Director Cindy Vannoy withheld payment, Woodske said.

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