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Ex-House staffer Manzo offered 'wealth' of info

| Tuesday, April 17, 2012

HARRISBURG -- A former top House Democratic staffer who helped convict two legislative leaders led state agents to "a large number of investigations yet to be revealed," a prosecutor said on Monday.

Michael Manzo, 42, a Monaca native, cut a deal with prosecutors in 2009 and became the star witness against former House Democratic Whip Mike Veon, formerly of Beaver Falls, and former House Speaker Bill DeWeese, D-Waynesburg. Dauphin County Common Pleas Judge Richard Lewis yesterday sentenced Manzo to 18 to 48 months in prison.

He also provided prosecutors what Chief Deputy Attorney General Frank Fina called "a wealth of knowledge" on other cases. "These are cases entirely separate from what the court has seen," Fina told Lewis.

Fina would not tell reporters who is involved or whether charges would be filed. He would only confirm the cases are government investigations.

The legislative bonus scandal that rocked the Capitol from 2007 to 2010 was Manzo's "brain child," Lewis said. But he took Manzo's cooperation into account in sentencing him on 10 felonies.

"There's not a day goes by that I am not profoundly sorry for what I've done," Manzo said. He was the last defendant to be sentenced in the case that connected state-paid bonuses to political work.

"He's embarrassed. He's embarrassed for himself and his family," said his brother in law, Don Kockler, a former police officer.

The judge also sentenced Manzo to three years of probation, a $22,000 fine and $73,000 in restitution. Manzo agreed to forfeit his estimated $700,000 state pension. He could be eligible for release from state prison in 16 months. He must report May 15.

"Throughout this process, I found it really disappointing so many people refused to step up and take responsibility," Manzo told reporters after the hearing. "It was too easy to say, 'It was just the culture or the system.' I never bought into that."

Veon, 55, was convicted in 2010 of approving $1.4 million in bonuses for legislative staffers who worked on campaigns. He is serving a six- to 14-year prison term. Manzo also testified last month at Veon's second trial for misusing money from a state-funded nonprofit. A judge will sentence Veon on those charges May 23.

A jury in February convicted DeWeese, 61, of five charges for using his district and Harrisburg staff to conduct his campaigns. Manzo testified that DeWeese wouldn't have won a narrow re-election bid in 2006 without using taxpayer-paid staff to campaign.

DeWeese will be sentenced April 24.

Manzo indicated his statement about refusing to accept responsibility for one's action was directed at DeWeese, among others. Manzo was DeWeese's chief of staff. Manzo was fired in November 2007 with six others when emails were discovered linking them to illegal bonuses.

Authorities never charged DeWeese in the bonus investigation.

Manzo's wife, Rachel, was charged in July 2008. She eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and received 18 months' probation.

They are among 22 people convicted among 26 charged as a result of public corruption investigations by the attorney general's office.

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