As we've watched Corbett's wide-ranging investigation of the state legislature unfold, it has been curious to us how partisan Republican Attorney General and GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett has hammered an inordinate number of "little fish" while leaving unscathed some significant "big fish."
This applies to not only who Corbett has chosen to arrest, but also to who Corbett turned the wrath of his investigators on.
We've looked around the country at other public corruption investigations and we can find no other example where a prosecutor has indicted mainly staff people instead of elected officials.
It's just unheard of for a prosecutor to hold staff people singularly responsible while absolving the elected officials they worked for. Rather, indicting staff people is the first step toward snagging their culpable supervisors and bosses.
In the aftermath of Corbett's first round of arrests, Pennsylvania's chattering class editorialized and gossiped among themselves that this was to be the pattern with bonusgate. (Tribune Review 8/10/08)
Prime examples of this phenomena are the free-passes Corbett has given Secretary of Revenue Steve Stetler, Rep. Bill DeWeese and Majority Leader Todd Eachus.
Discovery documents included in the Veon pre-trial motions show that Corbett possessed thousands of emails and hours of testimony clearly implicating them. Yet, none of the three have been subpoenaed. Shockingly, they haven't even been interviewed by Corbett's investigators.
Instead, nearly all of Stetler's, DeWeese's and Eachus' staff have been dragged before the Grand Jury or, in the case of the Manzo family, arrested.
Read the testimony and documents for Eachus here, Stetler here and DeWeese here. How does Rachel Manzo wind up in handcuffs, but not her supervisor Eachus?
A more recent example of Corbett's propensity to go after only little fish comes from our close reading of Bill Zlatos' investigative reporting in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review covering the excessive salary and retirement package ($4 million!) awarded to Regis Champ, the CEO of the non-profit Allegheny Valley School. (Tribune Review 8/30/09)
The AVS is best known for being the beneficiary of the royalties from the sale of Steelers "Terrible Towels." However, the bulk of the funding for AVS comes from funds distributed by the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, and Zlatos' work has prompted DPW to audit AVS and its parent company Northwestern Human Services. (Tribune Review 9/12/09)
Champ's salary and retirement clearly exceeds most standards of compensation for similar non-profits. Kevin Casey, head of DPW's Office of Developmental Programs, was visibly perterbed by it saying, "Frankly, I was not happy with it. I've never heard of anything of that size in 40 years."
Plus, it appears that Champ being able to cash in on all his unused sick leave ($600,000!) was a special perk that other AVS employees were never allowed. (Tribune Review 9/4/09)
Very suspicious! In fact, Zlatos made a call to Corbett to see if his office was going to investigate. (Tribune Reveiw 9/15/09)
Corbett's answer? An anemic statement that Corbett is "concerned."
This concern hasn't translated into even the most perfuctory investigation according to NHS's spokesperson -- "we're not aware of the concerns stated by the Attorney General's Office."
Here at CasablancaPA, we're not surprised by Corbett's inaction even though DPW has found the compensation packages of AVS and NHS worthy of an audit.
Any criminal investigation of AVS's and NHS's compensation packages would necessitate taking a long, hard look at how NHS's CEO, former Republican State Senator Joe Rocks, has been using tax-payer dollars from DPW to pay his own half a million dollar yearly salary.
Besides being a Republican, Rocks is also a major contributor and fundraiser for Corbett's campaigns -- over $6,500 directly and thousands more through fundraising among NHS employees and associates. See an itemized list here.
Rocks is definitely a big fish and we predict Corbett will never drag him or any of NHS's board into a grand jury.
However, Corbett is only interested in excessive non-profit compensation packages if the investigation doesn't include any big fish and will further his ability to score public relations coups for his gubernatorial ambitions without hurting his fundraising.
Case in point is the criminal investigation and charges brought against Darla LaValle last year.
LaValle was charged on multiple criminal counts because as Executive Director of the Voluntary Action Center she "inflated her salary and pension" and "denied benefits to its employees." (Post-Gazette 8/15/08)
This same activity Champ and Rocks are being audited for by DPW...but no investigation of those two by Corbett?
Darla LaValle is definitely a small fish...and a Democrat...and arresting her would never hurt Corbett's fundraising.
Most importantly for Corbett, Darla LaValle is the wife of former State Senator Jerry LaValle, a key witness for Corbett against Mike Veon in the Beaver Initiative for Growth criminal case.
What better way to get Sen. LaValle to say just about anything a prosecutor could ever want, than to put the squeeze on him through his wife?
The squeeze was grossly transparent in Sen. LaValle's testimony to the Grand Jury where conveniently feigned complete ignorance and then in the second BIG preliminary hearing where under oath he acted like a senile trick-pony for Corbett. (Tribune-Review 9/4/09)
So, after dutifully providing just the right testimony to Corbett, it isn't surprising for CasablancaPA to hear the rampant rumors in Beaver County that the Senator's wife is now being recommended for ARD by Deputy Attorney General Laurel Brandstetter.
Earlier this year, Corbett told the Tribune-Review that "We are really taking a look at how money comes out of the (state) budget and goes into nonprofits." (Tribune-Review 3/26/09)
Then, during a June 10, 2009 PCN call-in program Corbett said, "So many times our investigations, we receive initial information from newspaper accounts, from television accounts and then we start developing witnesses and continue working our way through an investigation."
Since Corbett took office in 2005, there have been multiple reports of shady non-profit dealings all over the state. All of them involving some big fish.
To name a few:
State Rep. Nick Micozzie's Clifton Heights Economic Corp.
Former Representative Gene McGill's Historic Property Preservation Institute
State Rep. John Perzel's Mayfair Community Development Corporation and his 8001 Torresdale Corporation
US Senator Rick Santorum's Operation Good Neighbor
After announcing charges against Mike Veon related to the Beaver Initiative for Growth, Corbett told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette "This is far from a completed investigation."
Corbett is not being truthful.
What he should have said was that "This is far from a completed investigation as long as it doesn't require me to indict any big fish and the splash of the possible indictments keeps me in the news without hurting my fundraising."
Big fish like Rocks and Champ who give big money or are in positions of authority have nothing to fear from Corbett.
When you consider the entirety of Corbett's wide-ranging investigation of the legislature, the same goes for the big fish like Perzel, Sen. Chip Brightbill, Sen. Bob Jubelirer, Mike Long, Brian Preski, DeWeese, Eachus, Rep. Jennifer Mann, Rep. Dan Frankel, Rep. Joe Preston and Stetler.
It is the little fish that Corbett likes to cast his net for and hassle --Darla LaValle, PJ LaValle, Rachel Manzo, Brett Cott, Earl Mosely, Scott and Jennifer Brubaker, Annamarie Perretta-Rosepink, Dan Wiedemer, Karen Steiner, Steve Keefer, Paul Martz, Melissa Lewis, Steve Webb, Eric Webb, David Bliss, Bob Caton, Barb Grill -- they are easier to scare and have no effect or political blowback on the fundraising for his gubernatorial ambitions.
The strangest and most suspicious part is how Corbett has yet to use the little fish as "bait" to get the big fish (other than Veon.)
Arrest Mike Manzo, but not DeWeese?
Arrest Rachel Manzo, but not Eachus?
Grant Dan Wiedemer immunity, but don't arrest Stetler?
Arrest PJ LaValle, but not Keith McCall?
We predict this pattern will continue when Corbett finally gets around to making his "shocking" indictments of Republicans.
When asked by the Gettysburg Times about how his Bonusgate investigation has yet to snag a single Republican, Corbett said “I’m not going to run away from tough decisions." (Gettysburg Times 9/24/09)
We believe Corbett. He hasn't run away from the tough decision on whether or not to conduct an investigation resulting in arresting all the fish. He just made the wrong decision and decided to let all the big fish go.