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'Bonusgate' probe uncovers sleaze

| Tuesday, July 15, 2008

We try to remember that they are all innocent until proven guilty. That was the only comfort as we watched 12 public servants being marched around in handcuffs last Friday like common criminals.

Former House Minority Whip Mike Veon, current state Rep. Sean Ramaley and 10 legislative aides are the first people formally charged in a year-long investigation into "Bonusgate." The 12 Democrats have brought a new level of embarrassment to Pennsylvania's state government, a body that was already suffering from low public confidence.

Their alleged crime was a scheme to use legislative aides -- who were being paid by the taxpayers -- as workers on Democratic political campaigns while they were on state time. The staffers received generous bonuses from the state treasury for the hours they spent on the campaign trail.

The alleged mastermind of this endeavor was Veon, who is charged with 59 counts of conflict of interest, theft and conspiracy.

State Attorney General Tom Corbett, who ran the investigation, alleges that Veon "ran an illegal campaign organization from his offices." That operation reportedly included fundraising, opposition research, campaign mailings, e-mails and nomination petition challenges -- all paid for by state taxpayers.

In addition, the grand jury charges that Veon set up extravagant public-funded dinners for himself and fellow Democratic officials, totalling $22,000 over four years. He is also accused of giving two employees nearly $1,500 in state funds to take two family motorcycles to a 2004 rally in Sturgis, S.D., so they would be waiting when Veon and his wife flew in.

Unfortunately, the charges that came down last week are likely to be just the tip of a stinking pile of garbage in Harrisburg. When Corbett announced the grand jury's findings, he promised to continue investigating lawmakers from both parties, and we shudder to think about what he still may uncover.

But for now, Veon and his cronies are the new face of corruption in state government. They callously violated the public trust that is invested in their positions, and treated the money of hard-working Pennsylvanians like it came from a board game.

We are encouraged by Corbett's progress so far, and we urge him to keep going until the last tawdry piece of corruption is uncovered.

The first step to giving the state a government it can be proud of is getting rid of the people who are causing the embarrassment.

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