Wednesday, July 29, 2009


"House Republicans received a subpoena for documents in the long-running investigation into bonuses for legislative employees...." Associated Press, Oct. 23, 2007

"Attorney General Tom Corbett's yearlong probe of legislative operations entered new turf this week when his investigators subpoenaed records from the state Senate's majority Republican caucus." Patriot News, Feb. 13, 2008

"In a widening investigation into allegations of government corruption, prosecutors have interviewed 20 to 30 House Republican staffers in the last two weeks..." Post-Gazette, Aug. 8, 2008

"The other shoe could drop as soon as this week. Look for Republicans wearing handcuffs like the 12 Democrats did at their arraignments in July." Tribune-Review, Sept. 14, 2008

"When the next criminal charges come in a public corruption investigation of the Legislature, they will 'shock the conscience of people' because of the staggering amount of tax money involved, Attorney General Tom Corbett said Thursday. 'You will be stunned,' he told the Tribune-Review. 'It's the amount of money involved.'" Tribune-Review, Feb. 20, 2009

"At this point even some Republicans and taxpayer watchdog groups are critical -- at least privately -- that nothing more has happened in a year." Patriot News, July 12, 2009

"...the fact that his investigation has yielded no Republicans and is now bumping into his own gubernatorial ambitions only further clouds a murky Harrisburg picture." Patriot News, July 15, 2009

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Nobody cares if you do it.

Nobody cares if you get "caught."

They only care if you get indicted.

While the 31-month-and-counting Bonusgate saga holds many lessons for Capitol denizens, the public reaction to Mike Veon's ill-fated motion to dismiss the case based on "selective prosecution" has taught one of the most interesting.

The judge denied the motion, saying not that Veon wasn't singled out, but that singling him out isn't illegal. C'est la vie. This isn't a lesson in the law.

In support of his motion, Veon filed hundreds of pages of evidence, which he obtained from prosecutors through the discovery process, showing other lawmakers and staff aides did what Veon and others are indicted for doing.

These "revelations" were greeted by press and public alike - the same press and public clamoring for Veon to be hanged from the highest tree - with a collective yawn.

Are there consequences - and we're not talking about indictment - for doing what Veon did? Only if you're Veon.

The evidence shows that - among other, more chilling misdeeds - Bill DeWeese approved bonuses for political work and used a state-funded contractor to campaign. Veon and others face multiple felony charges - not for similar activities, but for these very bonuses and this very contractor. Has DeWeese been drummed out of his leadership position? Has he faced the outrage of his colleagues? Has he endured even a single negative editorial from his hometown newspaper (whose former editorial page editor now receives a state paycheck to sing DeWeese's praises)? He did it. He got "caught." But he didn't get indicted. So, who cares?

The evidence shows that Revenue Secretary Steve Stetler, while running the House Democratic Campaign Committee, used legislative staffers to conduct opposition research. Veon and others face multiple felonies - not for similar activities, but for this very opposition research. Has Stetler been asked to resign? Have his colleagues denounced him? Has Gene Stilp floated his giant inflatable pink pig outside Stetler's office? He did it. He got "caught." But he didn't get indicted. So, who cares?

Veon's motion included evidence that Sen. David Argall, while a House member, held political meetings in his district office and kept nominating petitions on hand for constituents to sign when they visited the office, seeking his assistance. According to the documents: Argall and Reps. Merle Philips, Dick Hess, Mario Civera, Paul Clymer, Richart Geist and Mike Turzai collected full per diems while using their contingency accounts to purchase meals. Geist and Rep. Nick Micozzi accepted campaign contributions in their state offices. Rep. Dan Frankel supervised staff coordinating political work with a state contractor. Dozens of other staff and members engaged in political work using state resources and on state time.

Pink pigs? Public denouncements? Indignant editorials? Shunned by colleagues? Demands for resignations? Nope. They did it. They got "caught." But they didn't get indicted. So, who cares?

Months ago, when evidence of DeWeese's complicity first came to light, editorial writers across the state seemed convinced that his indictment was imminent. They didn't seem to realize that, although they were learning of this evidence for the first time, Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett had been aware of it for more than a year. When the indictment failed to materialize, were they outraged? They're not even curious.

Corbett isn't the only one with double standards. As this is CasablancaPA, we'll just say we're shocked - shocked - to find that hypocrisy is going on all over the state.


"Checking the Balance" asks today whether or not partisan Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett is lucky enough to get through his bonusgate investigation without announcing any charges against Republicans and still be considered a viable gubernatorial candidate. Check it out here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


A CasablancaPA reader alerted us to former Rep. Frank LaGrotta's blog that started up a few days ago. You can find it here.

We're looking forward to checking in on it frequently to see if he has any thoughts or insight regarding partisan Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett's bonusgate investigation, especially since he was collateral damage from Bill DeWeese's effort to throw everyone under the bus in order to save himself.

We're wondering if Todd Eachus, Keith McCall, Josh Shapiro, Dan Frankel and many other members will meet the same fate as LaGrotta. Based on the information found in Mike Veon's recently denied motions (all of it provided to Tom Corbett by DeWeese), it looks like the have reason to worry.


Today, the Uniontown Herald Standard editorial board questions the motivation behind partisan Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett's delay in bringing bonusgate related charges against Republicans. You can check it out here. They raise serious questions that Corbett will need to answer very, very soon.


Here at Casablancapa, we've been following the on-going drama surrounding Senate Minority Leader Bob Mellow's district office rental agreement that resulted in Mellow and his family receiving over $200,000 in rent money.

It is of keen interest because the Mellow situation is a perfect example of how partisan Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett's woefully mismanaged and arbitrary bonus investigation can and will inhibit the investigation of even the most blantant violations of the law.

First, we should discuss how Mellow's self-dealing is clearly illegal.

Mellow renting a building for his district office from a company owned either by himself or his wife is illegal. The ethics law can't be any clearer. Read it for yourself here.

And, if you think there is any ambiguity, the Ethics Commission spelled out why Mellow's arrangement is illegal in a 1989 ruling involving former State Representative Italo Cappabianca's attempts to collect rent for his district office, as well as collect a 10% commission through the travel agency he owned by purchasing airline tickets for his travel to and from Erie for legislative business.

Mellow attempts to throw up a smoke screen of confusion in an effort to say he didn't break the law by trotting out Senate Resolution 2 of 2009.

However, this ploy is dripping with disingenousness when you consider that in 1990, CJ Hafner, Mellow's chief counsel, was part of an ethics ruling seeking to revisit the 1989 Cappabianca ruling. Hafner was turned down and told unequivocally that a member of the state legislature could not pay themselves rent money for their district offices.

This would all seem reason enough for Attorney General Tom Corbett to investigate Mellow for his conflict of interest, but that is not all. You see, Corbett has a keen interest in how members of the state legislature pay for their district offices.

In March, Corbett charged Mike Veon with three felonies (see the charges here) for splitting his district office rent with the Beaver Initiative for Growth (read the relevant section of the grand jury presentment here.)

So, if Corbett believes Veon's district office rental arrangements rose to the level of illegality, then surely Corbett will launch a full investigation of Mellow and begin dragging the Senator and relevant staff into the Grand Jury?

Don't count on it.

Corbett's train wreck of an investigation of the bonuses has backed him into a corner of political expediency for his gubernatorial campaign.

Even though Mellow clearly should be investigated and charged with a crime, Corbett's political handlers are telling him that he can't because he has yet to charge any Republicans after more than a year after arresting Veon and eleven other Democrats.

Political expendiency is preventing Corbett from charging any Republicans for bonus related crimes ahead of the GOP primary because the Republican legislative caucuses and their leaders have been among his largest financial supporters and they in turn are very close with Bob Asher, Corbett's top political adviser and donor.

Consequently, Corbett can't investigate and charge Mellow because his blatant disregard for Republican illegalities would be highlighted even further if he arrests yet another Democrat without any Republicans or even Republican window dressing.

Corbett thought he would have an open and shut case when it came to arresting only Democrats in relation to bonusgate. One that would make for great tv commercials and glowing editorials. Instead, his political miscalculations and the ineptitude of his investigators have made it possible for blatant violations of the law like Mellow's to go uninvestigated and uncharged.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


We finally got around to reading the latest court filing in the Bonusgate case, and we couldn't disagree more with the Patriot-News' lazy and shallow characterization of the information as Mike Veon pointing a finger at other legislative leaders.

Veon is pointing a finger, and it is aimed squarely at Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett.

The first and most important section of the "supplement to various omnibus pretrial motions" accuses Corbett of an "amateurish attempt" to conceal important evidence from the defendants.

Although the law requires the prosecution to turn over to defendants both incriminating and exculpatory evidence, portions of an investigative report were redacted.

Fortunately for the defendants, Corbett's agents appear to have the computer skills of sixth-graders; the "redacted" sections in the electronic document actually were highlighted in black. Even the Post-Gazette managed to crack the code.

According to the court documents, the redacted portions of the report fall into five categories:

1) the apparently improper removal of computer equipment from the House Democratic Caucus by an information technology supervisor in December 2007. (Veon was no longer a caucus member in 2007).

2) the assignment of a House Democratic intern in February 2007 to destroy computer hard drives.

3) the assignment of a House Democratic intern to shred documents in the information technology department between December 2007 and January 2008.

4) interviews with at least four individuals who supplied "documentary evidence" to the prosecution; there is no explanation of what they said or what evidence they supplied.

5) a "systematic scheme" by the House Democratic Caucus to shred documents related to the investigation.

Veon's lawyers call the redactions "an effort to hide the fact that the Democrats who are colluding with the prosecutor to set up these Defendants were, at the same time, destroying or altering other evidence which presumably exculpates these Defendants and inculpates other individuals who were not selectively prosecuted."

In other words, Corbett allowed Bill DeWeese to pick and choose what evidence to turn over. He appears to have been fully aware that DeWeese's staff apparently tried to destroy evidence DeWeese didn't want turned over. But instead of prosecuting DeWeese and his staff, he helped them cover up their scheme by redacting all traces of it from his report.

Anyone have a logical explanation for any of this?

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Gadfly Gene Stilp has wasted no time leaping into the spotlight now glaring on Senate Minority Leader Bob Mellow, who is accused of enriching himself at taxpayer expense.

Stilp, a failed lawyer and legislative aide, has made something of a career of picking at the wounds of scandalized lawmakers. In fact, thanks to Stilp's enthusiasm not only for filing ethics complaints, but for making a public spectacle of doing so, Pennsylvanians may now be treated to an endless parade of political candidates filing baseless ethics complaints against their opponents, then rolling out negative ads based on those complaints.

It probably never occurred to him there actually was a sound reason for the ban on publicizing complaints.

But we digress. If Stilp really is offended by ethical lapses by public officials, and not just addicted to the publicity that goes with complaining about them, he should be interested in an apparently serious ethical violation on the part of lawyers for the Office of Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett.

Rule 1.5 of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's Rules of Professional Conduct is: "A lawyer shall not enter into an agreement for, charge, or collect an illegal or clearly excessive fee."

Corbett insists that the law firm of former Mike Veon Chief of Staff Jeff Foreman (who most recently served as counsel to then-Majority Whip Keith McCall) "was placed on retainer by [Beaver Initiative for Growth] for $4,000 a month at Veon's suggestion, but that the firm didn't do legal work justifying those payments."

It's hard to imagine that accepting such payments would not be a violation of Rule 1.5.

The bigger problem is that Corbett's team clearly believes Foreman committed this violation (since they based a huge part of their case against Veon upon it). Rule 8.3: "A lawyer who knows that another lawyer has committed a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct that raises a substantial question as to that lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects, shall inform the appropriate professional authority."

Part of the reason charges against Veon related to BIG were thrown out of court is that Foreman would not admit in court that he violated Rule 1.5. Regardless, if Corbett's team is convinced that he did, they are obligated by Rule 8.3 to report him.

Sounds like a situation that is just ripe for Stilp to exploit. The only problem is, the law requires that such complaints remain confidential. Without any publicity to milk, what's in it for Stilp?


It has been over a year since partisan Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett cuffed Democrats and paraded them in front of the statewide media. Now, everyone in Harrisburg is waiting for the long promised Republican indictments, but it appears that Corbett is looking for a day when his new arrests won't be crowded out by budget news.

Laura Vecsey who covers the state Capitol for the Harrisburg Patriot News gets straight to the point on her blog, pa.lotix, today:

"What are we supposed to think now?...Corbett has said that more people will be arrested, but no one has been arrested since last summer.

It's tough for Corbett to find the right time to bring government officials and workers up on charges, what with campaigns, elections and budget negotiations crowding the political calendar.

Even taking into account the idea that Corbett's massive and lengthy probe of lawmakers and legislative workers is politics-free, the fact that his investigation has yielded no Republicans and is now bumping into his own gubernatorial ambitions only further clouds a murky Harrisburg picture."

Monday, July 13, 2009


Partisan Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett recently told PCN call-in viewers that many times his office starts an investigation based on his or his staff's perusal of the daily media:

"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." -- PCN 6/10/09

If Corbett read this morning's Inquirer, then Senate Democratic Leader Bob Mellow may find himself sitting in a Grand Jury room for his questionable arrangements involving his district office. ("An ethical question for leading Pa. Democrat" Philadelphia Inquirer, 7/13/09)

This got us thinking about what other news clippings are probably in Corbett's and his investigators' files (or at least should be.) We've all read them and remember them, but we don't want to take it for granted that Corbett was looking as closely.

Topping the list should be another Inquirer item that outlines how the House Republican caucus maintained extensive amounts of political campaign material on their state funded computer system. ("A tangled web at state house" Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/18/07)

Of course, Corbett subsequently allowed the House Republicans to destroy their hard drives and servers. Republican spokesman Steve Miskin admitted as much to the Tribune Review last year. ("Bonus allegations borderline slanderous" Pittsburgh Tribune Review, 10/16/08)

Another news item that Corbett should have his agents diligently investigate would be how Drew Crompton, a Senate Republican staff person who took off 4 months to work on Lynn Swann's gubernatorial campaign, received a $20,000 bonus in 2006. Colin McNickol wrote a column about it and we all know that any respectable GOP primary candidate like Corbett would read the Trib diligently. ("The Susquehanna sewer backs up again" Pittsburgh Tribune Review, 2/4/2007)

Here is a blast from the past, but this Morning Call story recounting how Democratic State Senate staffers used state resources on state time to recruit candidates should give Corbett more than a few leads to follow. ("State Senate staffer found politicking on work time" Morning Call, 2/23/2002)

Let's not forget the well-publicized antics of the Philadelphia Parking Authority and how John Perzel and his henchmen maced employees there. Surely, Corbett has the fortitude to stand up to Bob Asher and go after Perzel after reading this one? ("5 city aides claim they were maced" Philadelphia Daily News, 9/14/2004)

Whenever Corbett's much anticipated (and promised) next round of indictments finally are announced (it has been over a year since Corbett hammered House Democrats,) we hope they reflect all the political activity everyone in the Capitol has been reading about and know has been standard operating procedure in all four caucuses for years.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


In a half-hearted swat at Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett, the Patriot-News today urged him to bring his long-vaunted next round of Bonusgate charges "as soon as possible."

Folks, "as soon as possible," is long, long in the past. It's way too late to file them "as soon as possible."

"As soon as possible," would have been as soon as it was possible to file his first round of charges, which was as soon as it was possible to have the maximum impact on the 2008 legislative elections.

The editorial repeats Corbett's false rationale that he had to launch an investigation on Democrats alone in January 2007 because he believed - mistakenly, as it turns out - that the Democrats were destroying evidence. The Post-Gazette exposed the lie in November of 2007, pointing out that investigators "rushed" to seize boxes after they got the "tip" in August.

It also begs the question of when he would have begun investigating Republicans if he hadn't believed the Democrats were destroying evidence. It makes no sense if you think about it too much; fortunately for Corbett, no one seems to be thinking about it too much.

One can hardly blame the Patriot-News for clinging to this discredited theory, because the alternative theory - that Corbett never intended to charge any Republicans - is almost too overwhelming to contemplate. Corbett's been getting by on winks and nods ever since his fake "moratorium" on charges last September, without facing any tough media scrutiny.

If Corbett charges any Republicans now, it will be nearly impossible for him to rebut the accusation that he did so primarily to avoid the appearance of partisanship.

It's too late for Corbett to avoid the appearance of partisanship. His investigation at this point is so compromised it's impossible to separate politics from justice.

Friday, July 10, 2009


Pending Bonusgate charges will "shock the conscience of people. You will be stunned. It's the amount of money involved."

-Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett in the Tribune-Review, February 20, 2009

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


For months the blog Checking the Balance has done an exemplary job cutting through the horse-hockey partisan Attorney General Tom Corbett puts out.

Yesterday, CTB yet again asks some good questions about Corbett and his off-the-rails investigation:


As we approach the one year anniversary of partisan Attorney General Tom Corbett's announcement of indictments against the 12 Democrats, here is a great post from our friends at

We're still anxiously waiting for the indictments of Republicans that Corbett has promised.

He told the Pittsburgh Tribune Review in February his next indictments in his Bonusgate investigation will "shock the conscience of people...You will be stunned. It's the amount of money involved."

Although, Corbett has been teasing us for over a year we're not holding our breath.


We've just finished conferring with our spies in the courtroom for yesterday's hearing on pretrial motions filed by the Bonusgate defendants.

While most of the media coverage centered on the motion to dismiss the charges based on "selective prosecution," we found the revelations about how evidence was gathered much more interesting.

Get this: not one of the battalion of lawyers representing the Office of Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett had any idea what the OAG requested in the subpoenas served on the House Democratic Caucus in 2007. Did they request certain computer hard drives? Did they request electronic copies of e-mails between particular members, or sent during a particular time period? Did they request specific memos or documents?

They don't know.

Lawyers for Mike Veon contend that Corbett allowed then-House Democratic Leader Bill DeWeese to choose his own scapegoats, scouring the caucus computer system for evidence that implicated those scapegoats alone. They contend that a thorough search of the caucus' hard drives and servers would have implicated others - DeWeese in particular. But no such search was conducted.

Robert Soop, supervisory agent of the OAG's legislative corruption investigation, testified as much at a preliminary hearing for two of the defendants in October:

Q: What I am more interested in is, who gave you this?
A: Who gave us the actual e-mails?
Q: Yes.
A: It was negotiated -- my understanding is, it was negotiated through representation from the House.
Q: So the House Democratic Caucus gave you the e-mails?
A: Specifically, Mr. Chadwick would have been involved in that process.
Q: You can't testify under oath here today that these e-mails came from any computer in particular? You don't have the IP address to trace it to a particular computer, correct?
A: The House gave them to us, and these e-mails were obtained as a result of the system at the House.
Q: That's not my question. My question is you didn't go to the particular hard drive of Mr. Veon's computer, or Miss Rosepink's computer and you as law enforcement did not retrieve these e-mails from those hard drives, according to your testimony?
A: I personally did not do that, no.
Q: Nor did any law enforcement person? It was the House Democratic Caucus, according to your testimony?
A: Again, I was not involved in that process. That is my understanding of how it took place.

Umm...hey, OJ? Can you let us know if you find anything suspicious?

Agent Soop was subpoenaed to testify at yesterday's hearing, but Judge Richard A. Lewis temporarily blocked all subpoenas while he considers whether he will hear testimony on the motion to dismiss based on selective prosecution. Those subpoenaed to testify on other motions, including Agent Soop, still could be required to appear no matter how Lewis rules on the selective prosecution motion.

Veon's lawyers argued that prosecutors should not be allowed to introduce the e-mails that DeWeese turned over unless they can authenticate them. Based on Agent Soop's October testimony, it appears they can not.

It's very clear to Team CasablancaPA that DeWeese did just as Veon's lawyers contend. As we have pointed out before, we already know that DeWeese failed to turn over a large cache of e-mails that were later discovered, printed out, in an office previously occupied by caucus attorney Bill Sloane. Sloane facilitated the caucus' response to subpoenas in 2007. According to the Post-Gazette, many of the e-mails appear to implicate DeWeese and those in DeWeese's inner circle.

We also know DeWeese failed to turn over about 200 emails that show his top two aides, Kevin Sidella and Tom Andrews, directing a taxpayer-funded contractor to perform campaign work. Corbett noted in a presentment last year that DeWeese himself corresponded with the same state contractor on campaign matters. Rather than pursue charges Corbett inexplicably praised DeWeese for using his campaign e-mail account.

We don't know what other evidence DeWeese withheld, and more importantly, we don't know why Corbett allowed DeWeese to determine the course of the investigation. We do know that DeWeese turned over the e-mails only after Corbett granted someone immunity under a sealed order.

Meanwhile, Judge Lewis is expected to decide this week whether to hear testimony on the "selective prosecution" motion, and rumors are rampant that Corbett is desperate to defang Veon's allegation by sprinkling a few more indictments around the Capitol (Or, at least, by creating the impression that he will).

Friday, July 3, 2009


For the first time in more than two years, the public may be about to hear a side of the Bonusgate story that Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett doesn't want to be heard.

Has this possibility been greeted in the Capitol with anticipation? Relief? A sense of satisfaction?

No, it's been more like one long primal scream of panic.

The Tribune-Review today reports that lawyers for the defendants on Thursday served between 40 and 100 House members and staff with subpoenas to testify at a hearing next week on the defendants' motions to dismiss the charges.

The motions are based on various deficiencies in the shoddy case Corbett has cobbled together. Anyone whose true goal is justice would welcome the opportunity to expose these flaws.

Diogenes needn't waste his time in Harrisburg. Caucus lawyers immediately reassured the desperate witnesses they will fight to quash the subpoenas. The same caucus that supposedly encouraged staff to go forth and tell the truth when Corbett was asking the questions now issues the order, "Clam up!" when telling the truth might look bad for Corbett.

Part of the reason for the hysteria can be found in a second Tribune-Review article today, which gives Corbett free rein to bang his "investigation is continuing" drum.

This unceasing din, while headache-inducing for most of us forced to endure it, brings Corbett great joy on several fronts. Most importantly, it keeps everyone in the Capitol perpetually cowed. How can any member or staff person have the courage to step up to the witness stand and tell the truth about Corbett's disaster of a case when Corbett's foot is on his or her neck? "You could be next," is the not-so-subtle-message.

Where does this leave our hapless defendants? The defendants' right to a defense includes the right to carefully examine the case Corbett has constructed. Instead, Corbett throws out his arms to block it from view and shrieks, like a middle-schooler working on a science project, It isn't finished yet!!

If it isn't finished (and by this time the rest of his class has graduated and moved on) then why did he file charges? If he's not ready, after all this time, to stand up in court and allow the public to examine his case, then this case doesn't belong in court.

Of course, it may be that Corbett really never wants this case to end up in court, at least not while he's still got to make it work. He needs this jalopy to carry him only as far as the Governor's Office. Then he can abandon it on the side of the road and leave the mess for someone else to clean up.

P.S. Could it be Corbett already is hearing the tell-tale sounds of sputtering under the hood? He told the Tribune-Review, "The people who are in charge of this investigation are career prosecutors, career agents. The decisions that will be made — and I won't be making those decisions — are made in the best interests of the prosecution ..." That may not be finger-pointing quite yet, but he's definitely taking off his gloves.