Prosecutor: Veon used the public's money for private purposes
HARRISBURG — Former Rep. Mike Veon used state grant money intended for economic development to further his own personal and political agenda, a state prosecutor told a jury today.
Veon, a longtime Democratic power broker formerly of Beaver Falls, is charged with theft-related offenses and conflict of interest for allegedly misusing funds from a non-profit he created and supplied with $10 million in state grant money. Opening arguments began today in Dauphin County Court.
In 2010, a jury convicted Veon of 14 charges for awarding under-the-table salary to legislative staffers who worked on campaigns. He is serving a 6- to 14-year prison term.
In this case, Veon, 55, "used the authority of his office to directly benefit his family," Deputy Attorney General Laurel Brandstetter said. He did so by arranging a $100,000-plus job with a development contractor that was paid $900,000 by the Beaver Initiative for Growth and had substantial contracts with House Democrats, Brandstetter said.
That is one of several instances of misuse, she said.
Veon made about $95,000 as a legislative leader and from BIG "he made zero," said Dan Raynak, Veon's lawyer.
The initial charge against Veon alleged he tried to get a higher salary for his brother, Mark, not a job, Raynak said.
The alleged go-between for Veon, his former chief of staff Jeffrey Foreman, is a "multi-convicted felon," Raynak said.
Raynak said the jury would hear from Veon's brother and the head of the development company and it would be their word against Foreman's.
Another charge against Veon is that BIG, which Veon founded, paid $19,000 in rent for an additional office on Pittsburgh's South Side above a cigar store. BIG never staffed the office, Brandstetter said. A legislative intern was housed there temporarily.
Raynak said BIG had an incredible number of projects in Allegheny County.
A former state legislator, Rep. Terry Van Horne, received a $5,000 check from BIG but never did any work for the nonprofit, prosecutors say. Van Horne died recently. BIG funds were also used for an additional legislative office in Midland, prosecutors charge.
Raynak said it was all taxpayer money, and Veon could have, as a legislative leader, obtained whatever he needed in state money for the Midland office. "If Mr. Veon wanted 30 district offices he literally could have gotten the money," Raynak said.
"Are the taxpayers actually losing a penny?" Raynak asked.
Michael Palermo, attorney for Veon's co-defendant Annamarie Perretta-Rosepink, said the government would have to prove she had criminal intent as a person who wrote BIG checks and also headed Veon's district office in Beaver Falls. Rosepink, he said, had no criminal intent.
Judge Bruce Bratton filed an order today denying a motion to dismiss charges against Veon and Rosepink over allegations of "prosecutorial misconduct." Defense lawyers showed no evidence, he said.
He also ruled against a defense motion to use a portion of Van Horne's testimony from a preliminary hearing.
John Gallo, the former executive director of BIG, the prosecution's first witness, said that after he was off work for a month following the birth of his daughter, who had medical complications, he learned Rosepink had taken the organization's checkbook. He said in March 2003 he noticed expenditures that "'didn't seem relevant to BIG."
During cross-examination, defense attorney Joel Sansone accused Gallo of stealing money from BIG, suggesting that's why he left the organization. But Bratton said he would tell the jury he is striking the question. ''Where is the evidence?'' said Chief Deputy Attorney General Frank Fina.
''You laid no foundation,'' Bratton said.