Sunday, May 3, 2009


Team CasablancaPA is trying to settle a bet. Which makes less sense?

a) That Attorney General/Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett conducted a two-year investigation of alleged illegal campaigning by House Democrats and never once questioned the guy who was in charge of House Democratic campaigns, or

b) That former finance and operations chairman of the House Democratic Campaign Committee Steve Stetler received a subpoena to testify to the grand jury and simply ignored it with no consequences.

According to Brad Bumsted's column in today's Tribune Review, Revenue Secretary Stetler received a subpoena to appear before a grand jury on June 21. He told reporters at a Nov. 12 news conference that agents of the Attorney General's office had never questioned him. He also said he'd never witnessed any alleged criminal activity.

Again: the guy who was in charge of the House Democratic Campaign Committee during the entire time Corbett claims illegal campaigning occurred never witnessed any alleged criminal activity.

And, Corbett never even asked him about any of it.

Bumsted claims to have "numerous examples of e-mails back and forth between House Democrat staffers and Stetler on political activity." But Bumsted doesn't describe what's in the emails.

Bumsted writes that a spokesman for the Governor's Office said the Attorney General's agents told Stetler's attorney they'd "get back to him if they needed Stetler." Since when do witnesses get to respond to a subpoena only if they feel like it? Why was Stetler subpoenaed if he wasn't "needed?" What the heck is going on?

What's most interesting about Bumsted's column is his observation that "Steler didn't run the caucus. He couldn't assign people beyond his own limited staff to do much of anything." Yet the guy who who did run the caucus, H. William DeWeese, was not indicted. And a bunch of other people who "didn't run the caucus" and couldn't assign anyone to do much of anything were indicted.

We suspect we haven't heard the last of the mysterious tale of Stetler's subpoena.


Anonymous said...

What is weird is you guys using this blog to try to figure out what else the investigators have on you.

Signor Ferrari said...

That would be weird, but it doesn't really answer the question. Thanks for playing, though!

Anonymous said...

No question a few of the House Staff members indicted helped create and manage a system for using state resources for political functions.

It looks to me to be the same system based on former and now convicted Senator Fumo’s model used for years.

Many feel it is proper to hold them accountable as Fumo has been convicted, for those that clearly crossed the line and knew it, as proven in emails in the Grand Jury conclusions.

Many have turned State Witnesses now and will testify how they went about misusing state funds for political intentions.

The Staffers that have turned clearly will admit their wrongdoing and maybe implicated others.

However, many others including some that have been indicted and many that have not been indicted were just doing the job they were assigned to do and that included political work.

They should not have been doing that work, but it was pattern and practice that seem normal and expected if you work for an elected lawmaker.

They were doing what staff members for both parties have been doing for a very long time, supporting their employers and were loyal workers.

In my opinion, indicting them is a strain and waste of commonwealth resources.

My speculation is that they were indicted for two reasons:

1. To make the case seem more substantial

2. To flip them into testifying against the people who created this scheme.

They are similar to the two misguided computer people in Fumo's office who were threatened with going to jail so that they would testify against the Senator.

I have thought a for sometime trying to look on it from a fair point of view.

I am becoming more troubled about this kind of prosecutorial behavior not just on the state level but on federal and local levels as well

Should not there be one standard for people being prosecuted if everyone else whom has done what they are accused of doing would be also prosecuted?

Ought other people to be prosecuted just because they may know something about someone else?

Anonymous said...

The flood gates of campaign money to seed casino's are now open to the public servants, judges, legislators, senators, and candidates, Thank You PA Supreme Court!

Posted on Fri, May. 1, 2009

Pa. court rejects gaming donor ban
Justices ruled that barring political contributions from the gambling industry violated free-speech rights.
By Mario F. Cattabiani, Angela Couloumbis and Jennifer Lin

Inquirer Staff Writers

HARRISBURG - The state Supreme Court yesterday ruled that a blanket ban on political contributions by gaming interests was unconstitutional, striking down a key provision of Pennsylvania's 2004 law designed to keep corruption out of the fledgling slots industry.

In a case involving a Blue Bell developer, the justices found that such a ban "clearly, palpably, and plainly" violated free-speech provisions.

The ban restricts "a constitutionally protected form of expression that is no less legitimate or important than other forms of expression," Chief Justice Ronald Castille wrote on behalf of the 5-1 majority.

The legislature imposed the ban as a firewall against wealthy gaming interests trying to influence politicians. Some fear that without it, there is an open invitation for high-stakes pay-to-play politics.

Considered the nation's broadest such restriction, the gaming law prohibited all political contributions from a long list of those involved in gaming, from casino-license applicants to slot-machine suppliers.

But developer Peter DePaul, part-owner of the Foxwoods Casino planned for Philadelphia, challenged the restriction on the ground that it unfairly singled out one business sector.

He said he felt vindicated.

"I don't feel that we should be taken advantage of and penalized for doing something that everyone else can do," DePaul said in an interview soon after the ruling. "I'm a substantial taxpayer in this state, and I have a right."

DePaul, who was aware of the ban, contributed nearly $32,000 to Philadelphia-area candidates and committees between January and April 2006 while Foxwoods' application for a slots license was pending before regulators.

He and the company that owns Foxwoods each agreed later that year to pay $100,000 for violating the ban. DePaul later sued.

Justices found that the ban served a legitimate goal of preventing undue influence, or at least the appearance of it, but was overly broad. They suggested that if contributions had been limited to a dollar amount, their decision might have been different.

The ruling does not affect any other portions of the gaming law, which legalized slots at up to 14 casinos and racetracks across the state.

In his dissent, Justice Seamus McCaffery wrote that in an era when "pay-to-play is a commonly known expression, and where public officials of high office have found themselves subject to federal corruption prosecutions, the necessity for the General Assembly to make every effort and to take every step to avoid even the appearance of corruption in the highly charged theater of publicly sanctioned 'gaming' is apparent."

Gov. Rendell said in a statement late yesterday that as long as he was governor he would continue turning away checks from anyone tied to gaming.

State Sen. Jeff Piccola (R., Dauphin), a chief gaming critic, said the law's proponents had always touted the ban as a way to keep the process "pure and aboveboard."

"It dressed the law up in legitimate clothes," he said. "I didn't think it was anywhere near enough to avoid the influences of impropriety and official corruption, but it certainly put a little bit of a damper on it. . . . Now the whole efficacy of gaming in Pennsylvania is undermined."

The ruling comes as the legislature is considering a number of gambling-related bills, including one opposed by casinos that would allow bars and clubs across the state to install video-poker machines. And some lawmakers continue to talk about legislation to legalize table games at the state's slots casinos, a measure strongly backed by the industry.

Senate Minority Leader Robert Mellow (D., Lackawanna) said that while he believed "it was good government to have the ban," he did not think the decision will opened up the floodgates to corruption.

"You are either corruptible or you're not," he said. "You don't have to get a contribution to become corrupted."

Mellow, like Rendell, will continue to reject contributions from gaming interests. Both have the power to appoint members to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

But Mellow said elected officials who did accept donations would have to disclose them.

"It's not like you will be able to hide it," he said.

State Rep. Curt Schroder (R., Chester) called the court's decision "a tortured piece of legal reasoning."

"They struck down the one piece of the law that truly protects the public," he said. "Why should we be surprised? This is the same court that found a way to take the pay raise even though the General Assembly repealed it."

Schroder was referring to the 2005 pay raise lawmakers gave themselves and other state officials, but then repealed. The Supreme Court later ruled that state judges could keep their raises.

State Rep. Michael O'Brien, a Democrat whose district includes both casinos planned for Philadelphia, said it was unfortunate that the justices had not followed the lead of their counterparts in New Jersey, who upheld as constitutional a similar ban.

Last month, The Inquirer reported that state regulators were investigating whether a $15,000 political contribution in January from Comcast-Spectacor chairman Ed Snider, a partner in Foxwoods, violated the ban.

Regulators also are scrutinizing a $1,000 contribution from SugarHouse Casino investor Richard A. Sprague to then-Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll. A check from Sprague was dated Dec. 23, 2005, but not deposited by Knoll's committee until Dec. 30, 2005 - two days after SugarHouse applied for a casino license. Knoll died last year.

DePaul, in his legal challenge, argued that the ban was too far-reaching in that it prevented him and others in the industry from giving to candidates for offices that have no connection whatsoever with regulating gaming. As an example, he had pointed to checks he wrote to Ronald Donatucci, Philadelphia's register of wills.

He also said that merely donating money to an elected official or candidate didn't mean he was going to get something for his casino.

"That," he said, "is not what happens in the real world."

Anonymous said...

Command watchdogs and others said the dismissal of the charges could have implications for the wider-reaching Bonusgate probe, which involved 12 defendants affiliated with the House Democratic caucus.

Tim Potts, a leader of Democracy Rising PA, who had sharply clashed with Mr. Veon in 2005 over the now-rescinded legislative pay raise, called the dismissal "an embarrassment" to the attorney general.

"After today, everybody is going to question the quality of the evidence against those people who were previously charged," he said.

Anonymous said...



As political prosecutions go, the federal case against Cyril Wecht turned out to be a particularly pugnacious brand of perniciousness. Yet even in shameful defeat, U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan could not let it go.

A federal grand jury indicted Dr. Wecht in January 2006. It accused the former Allegheny County coroner and world-renowned forensic pathologist of 84 counts of public corruption -- fraud and theft for allegedly using his public office for private gain.

But it appeared to be a chicken-droppings case from the outset. Half of the charges were withdrawn before Wecht went to trial, one that ended in a hung jury in April 2008. The feds decided to try Wecht again, this time on 14 counts.

But a hardly funny thing happened on the way to the United States government's persecution of Cyril Wecht. A federal judge ruled that investigators lacked the proper supporting paperwork to go on the fishing expedition they did. Illegally gathered evidence is no "evidence" at all.

A "technicality"? Indeed. But it's the kind of technicality designed to protect people from just this kind of prosecutory zeal that runs roughshod over the rule of law. Mrs. Buchanan had no choice but to drop the charges. Her zealotry was another matter.

"We have a lot of other criminals we can go after," she said. That's inexcusable.

Cyril Wecht, now 78, paid a horrendous personal and professional price for the federal government's monomaniacal behavior. In the least, Buchanan owes him not a smart-aleck's tongue but a humble apology.