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This state scandal's a beaut

| Monday, Aug. 4, 2008

"There is no native criminal class except Congress," said Mark Twain.

In the Pennsylvania version of this criminal class, the latest storm cloud over our den of thieves and incompetents in Harrisburg comes, appropriately, by way of Miss Rain Day, Angela Bertugli, the 2001 winner of the Rain Day beauty pageant in Greene County.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports how Miss Rain Day ended up on the gravy train and being supported by our tax dollars after public servant Mike Manzo, former chief of staff to House Democrat Leader Bill DeWeese, spotted her in a bar in 2004.

"They shared drinks and then had a tryst in a car," reports the Philly paper. "The following year the beauty queen was given a state job as a researcher in a field office above a cigar store. By 2006, her salary jumped 42 percent to $30,000, plus she got a $7,000 bonus."

Bertugli, reports the Inquirer, "told investigators that she got her state job after having sex above a Pittsburgh cigar shop with Manzo."

Miss Rain Day's paycheck has now jumped to $45,344, plus a generous benefits package that empties the public coffers by another $10,000 per year. Every dime, of course, comes out of the taxpayers' pockets, not Mr. Manzo's.

The $45,344 doesn't count the price of any high-end cigars or any fancy overtime work that perchance ended up on the taxpayers' tab when Manzo and Bertugli might have discussed her "research" over some crab-stuffed Maine lobster and a few glasses of Chateau Ste. Michelle Chardonnay.

In a basically no-work job that was created just for her -- Bertugli told investigators that she had nothing to do for 70 percent of the time -- the former beauty queen found time to pick up a master of public administration degree at the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, as well as get some hands-on experience in more local affairs.

Still employed by the state, Bertugli was transferred from her "office" above the South Side cigar shop to a job in Harrisburg after being accepted into law school at Widener University. Why is she still on the public payroll?

"It would be wrong to take retribution against those who told the truth," explains Tom Andrews, DeWeese's press secretary. The truth, though, came out only after Bertugli was nabbed. That's not the type of truth-telling that generally allows criminals to escape retribution and to continue to pick the public's pocket.

DeWeese says Ms. Bertugli comes from good stock, from "one of the finest families among all of my acquaintances." Does that mean we don't get our money back?

Bertugli's supervisor in Harrisburg was Jennifer Brubaker, but she's now gone, suspended without pay after being charged with playing a role in the Legislature's crooked bonus scheme.

Manzo also is gone, charged with conspiracy in connection with the bonus scandal and the misallocation of state workers in political campaigns, plus the tax-supported shenanigans with Ms. Bertugli.

Manzo's lawyer, Jim Eisenhower, says his client wasn't motivated by self-interest. "Anyone who believes that the allegations in this presentment were masterminded by Mike Manzo for his benefit are very naive," says Eisenhower.

Imagine going to law school to learn how to make statements like that with a straight face. What, Manzo's alleged sex-for-job swap wasn't in his self-interest• That was done for us?

DeWeese says that what happened right under his nose wasn't his fault. "No leader can be involved at that tactical level day in, day out and if you have many people -- there's just too many people," he said. "I'm not an investigative person."

One wonders if DeWeese would be more inquisitive, more careful with the cash, more investigative if it was his own money.

He's right, however, about too many people. The oversized collection of crooks and slouches in Harrisburg is the most expensive state legislature in the nation, and we still end up ranking 37th among the 50 states in job growth and 46th in population growth.

We pay the most, in short, and get the least. It's like paying a Mercedes price for a Honda, or like the highest-paid person in a company being a total flunky.

In the private sector, that kind of irrationality, waste and mismanagement just doesn't fly.

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