Thursday, February 25, 2010


The prosecutorial arm of Tom Corbett's gubernatorial campaign is not having the best month.
"What we hope's going to happen and what actually plays out in a courtroom, as (has) been demonstrated for almost four weeks now, it doesn't always work out that way," Senior Deputy Attorney General E. Marc Costanzo told reporters.

We want to show you something: It's our shocked face.

We are not lawyers here at CasablancaPA, but we do know that you're bound to bump into things when you're walking backward. A successful criminal prosecution begins with a crime and leads to a suspect. Tom Corbett's gubernatorial campaign began with a suspect and searched for a crime.

Know what you get when you stumble backward through a prosecution? Witnesses who contradict the central premise of your case. Just yesterday former Mike Veon staff member and immunized prosecution witness Rich Pronesti testified that he did not volunteer for political campaigns in 2004 and did receive a bonus. He volunteered for political campaigns in 2005 and did not receive a bonus. In 2006, he did not volunteer for political campaigns and did receive a bonus.

In case it's unclear, the Tom Corbett gubernatorial campaign is trying to prove that bonuses were awarded in return for political volunteerism. So, naturally, they called a witness who testified to the contrary. The Tom Corbett gubernatorial campaign is trying to prove that staff members feared for their jobs if they did not volunteer on political campaigns. So, naturally, they called a witness who not only retained his job after declining to volunteer, but received bonuses, raises and promotions.

The Tom Corbett gubernatorial campaign called Pronesti's testimony an anomaly. When their star witness shredded his own credibility, they stammered, "he's not that vital a witness." (Well, he did testify to his own lack of vitality. Tee hee. Ahem. Sorry.)

Almost exactly 70 years ago, Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson foresaw the potential disaster of the Tom Corbett gubernatorial campaign:

If the prosecutor is obliged to choose his cases, it follows that he can choose his defendants. Therein is the most dangerous power of the prosecutor: that he will pick people that he thinks he should get, rather than pick cases that need to be prosecuted. With the law books filled with a great assortment of crimes, a prosecutor stands a fair chance of finding at least a technical violation of some act on the part of almost anyone. In such a case, it is not a question of discovering the commission of a crime and then looking for the man who has committed it, it is a question of picking the man and then searching the law books, or putting investigators to work, to pin some offense on him. It is in this realm—in which the prosecutor picks some person whom he dislikes or desires to embarrass, or selects some group of unpopular persons and then looks for an offense, that the greatest danger of abuse of prosecuting power lies.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Because we're following the "Bonusgate" case on Twitter, we think we've finally figured out what's wrong with Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett's case. He's prosecuting the wrong defendant.

According to Roxbury News' Tweets:

"Foreman asked me [former Mike Veon staff member Rich Protnesti] to go to Beaver Co in the general election 2006, I refused, my wife was pregnant"

"Raynak- who told you [Pronesti] to lie A- Jeff Foreman, and things are getting very heated"

"Pronesti Foreman asked me to fly to Nashville TN pick up Mike's Harley - objection no charges were filed for a motorcycle in TN"

"Pronesti- after the payraise Foreman warned him - "people will be watching"

"Pronesti admitting working on campaigns without taking state leave, he was asked to work on the Albert campaign by Jeff Foreman"

Post-Gazette reporter Tracie Mauriello's Tweets:

"Pronesti says Jeff Foreman told him to lie on reimbursement form"

"In 06 Foreman told Pronesti, [former Veon staff member] Melissa Lewis & others to accrue compensatory time so they would have time to campaign."

"Foreman wanted Pronesti & others to move to Beaver for 10 weeks leading up to 06 primary. Pronesti refused."

"Pronesti: Jeff Foreman (who pleaded guilty in #bonusgate) asked him to go to Beaver to campaign against Veon political foe James Albert."

"Pronesti: Travel expenses were paid by caucus, too. Jeff Foreman told staff to submit those expenses for reimbursement by caucus"

"KSB [Karen Steiner Blanar, former Veon staff member]: Foreman told her and PJ Lavelle "to delete information and start protecting ourselves."

"KSB- Foreman wanted me to uproot and move to Beaver Co for 3 or 4 months I got out of it by crying, I was very upset"

ABC 27 reporter Andy Briggs' Tweets:

"[Former Veon staff member Esther] Reever sez Foreman was "persistent" in pushing campaign work. Sent her emails and came to her desk."

Hey, guys? Foreman already pleaded guilty! You can stop now.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Defense Attorney Bryan Walk: The Commonwealth has bought everybody's testimony. It's clear. Everybody's getting a deal or they got immunity. And when you dangle that in front of them, they will say whatever they need to say to please the Commonwealth.

Witness after witness, as soon as we get on cross, the whole demeanor changes, the whole attitude - and these are people who worked with everybody. But they are scared to death of losing immunity, or losing their deal.

Here's a woman who lied to her boss, to tell him she loves campaigning. You read those e-mails. How would anybody reading that not think Karen Steiner loves to campaign? But now - "Oh, it was all a lie, just to do this." But now? She's got to please the Commonwealth now, to keep her immunity deal.

The focus with these witnesses is, they're avoiding criminal charges, they're destroying evidence and avoiding criminal charges, they're getting free counsel - they don't have to spend a penny out of their pocket - and, they're either avoiding paying back the bonus or they're getting a sweet deal as far as what possible sentence they could get.

Associated Press reporter Mark Scolforo: Something's come up in little bits and pieces, and it came up again today. I mean, there is an issue, isn't there, about the role of the lawyers in all of this? I mean, they seem to be showing up at times and giving people advice about what to do. But that's kind of tangential to this case, right?

Walk: And where does that start? The lawyers are all under whose control? William DeWeese. Bill DeWeese's control. That's not unusual. It's a common theme that the prosecution wants to keep objecting to and keep out, that the fact of the matter is that DeWeese's office is controlling the tenor of this case from the beginning. And they still control it, by meeting with witnesses and telling them, "Hey, we might do this, we might do that, get rid of stuff," you know? And that's the problem you have here. These witnesses all are being told things to do, and are trying to please the Commonwealth.

And I don't that's lost on the jury. The jury's not stupid. They're sitting up there, they're very smart, and they're listening to these witnesses. And they see the difference. We're battling, every single question, to get a simple answer. And Melissa - er, Karen Steiner, how many times did she ask me to repeat the question? And how many times did she ask Blessington to repeat a question?

Scolforo: Or read from the transcript.

Walk: "Let me think about my answer before I answer that?"

Scolforo: What does that tell you?

Walk: She's stalling. She's been coached very well and prepared very well by the prosecution. They meet with these witnesses, and they've got that hanging over their heads. Now they're coming in, who do they want to please now? The Commonwealth. That's who brought them into this mess, That's going to be - it's been that way from beginning to now and it'll continue that way with all these witnesses.


Prosecution witnesses continue to cast an ever harsher light on Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett's error-riddled, politically-motivated, multi-million-dollar investigation of the legislature.

Those in the public who are following the trial through "traditional" media only are missing the real story. According to Post-Gazette reporter Tracie Mauriello's "Tweets," an Rendell Administration cabinet member asked a witness to "inform" on the Grand Jury:

"KSB [Karen Steiner Blanar, a former member of Mike Veon's staff]: Around the time she 1st testified before grand jury Sandi Vito asked her to be an informant to Jeff Foreman."

"Vito is state labor secretary & girlfriend of Foreman, who was later arrested in #bonusgate probe. He entered a plea agreement."

"Foreman testified last week in this trial. He was not asked whether Steiner Blanar discussed grand [jury] w/ him."

This revelation would raise questions, if ever it occurred to anyone in the Capitol newsroom to ask questions. House employees who testified to the grand jury were under a gag order during the investigation. If Blanar told Foreman what she told the grand jury, she would have been in contempt of court and should have been prosecuted, but she was not - probably because it would have damaged her credibility as a witness, and the prosecution's witnesses are already pretty low on credibility.

Did Corbett investigate Vito's role in a conspiracy to violate the judge's order? Or did he - as he attempted to do with another Rendell cabinet member - overlook allegations of wrongdoing on the part of administration officials?

After the Tribune-Review's Brad Bumstead exposed Corbett's wink-and-nod to Revenue Secretary Steve Stetler, the embarrassed Corbett backtracked and found something with which to charge Stetler. Will he now do the same to Vito?

Friday, February 19, 2010


Embarrasing details continue to pile up for Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett, as witnesses in the Bonusgate trial expose inexplicable gaps in Corbett's three-year, multi-million dollar investigation.

Today, convicted conspirator P.J. Lavelle admitted that then-Majority Whip, now Speaker of the House Keith McCall hired him on the state payroll to do political fundraising. (Associated Press 2/19/2010)

Today was certainly not the first that Corbett's crack investigators have heard this allegation. Page after page of e-mail evidence, turned over to defendants by the prosecutors and submitted as exhibits in Mike Veon's pretrial motion in July, detail the political work Lavelle and other staff did for McCall on state time.

Mike Veon is on trial on multiple felony counts for his employment of Lavelle. Corbett can't deny that he knew when he charged Veon that the same allegations applied to McCall, but he can't explain why he left McCall alone and went after Veon.

Corbett promised to follow the evidence wherever it led, but he didn't explain what he would do with it when he got there.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


If immunized prosecution witness Eric Webb is telling the truth, then John Estey, former Chief of Staff to Governor Edward G. Rendell, asked House Democratic staff to do opposition research on state time.

According to the Post-Gazette, "Mr. Webb testified that John Estey, former chief of staff to Gov. Ed Rendell, ordered opposition research to be conducted on 2006 Republican gubernatorial hopefuls Bill Scranton and Lynn Swann. Mr. Webb said that work was assigned to state workers who on state time had been digging up court filings, voting records and other material on political foes."

Estey apparently was far from unique. Prosecutors introduced as evidence an e-mail in which Rep. Mike Gerber asked Brett Cott for opposition research, and Cott forwarded the request to Webb. Incredibly, the e-mail was introduced as evidence against Cott, not Gerber.

Cott's facing felony charges for being the apparent middleman in this alleged transaction, and others like it. Webb was threatened with prosecution for being third in the line. Estey and Gerber, however, and the many other elected officials who allegedly relied on state employees to do political work, remain unscathed.

It's possible, of course, Eric Webb isn't telling the truth. He testified that political volunteerism soared in response to the alleged bonus scheme. Defense attorneys showed that the number of volunteers inched by just 31 people out of hundreds during the time of the alleged scheme.

Webb testified both that he knew his political work was wrong, and that he was completely baffled as to whether it was legitimate: "It would have been nice to have a lawyer on staff give some guidance," he said.

Estey vehemently denies Webb's accusation.

Whether he realizes it or not, Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett faces a dilemma (or, he would, if anyone actually cared about his integrity): He must either admit his witness is a liar, or explain why Estey and Gerber aren't facing the same charges as Cott and Veon. After all, he swore to follow the evidence.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


You can almost hear the horror in Tribune-Review columnist Brad Bumstead's voice as he utters the unthinkable: "Mike Veon could walk."

Clearly such an outcome would be a crushing blow to the Tribune-Review, which idolizes Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett and holds Veon as the embodiment of political evil on earth (AKA: a Democrat). But the "blame" for the direction of the trial thus far does not lie with Veon's defense team, skilled and charismatic though they may be.

We remind Mr. Bumstead that the defense has not yet begun to present its case. We'll wait until we actually see it before we label it, "inventive" or otherwise. This shambling stream of muddy testimony that has eroded the Commonwealth's case for the last two weeks has been brought to you courtesy of the prosecution.

Even though the Office of Attorney General subpoenaed more than 80 witnesses, according to rumors around the Capitol it planned to call fewer than two dozen. So confident were prosecutors in the power of star witnesses Michael Manzo and Jeff Foreman - formerly the highest-ranking staffers in the House Democratic Caucus - that they believed the testimony of underlings would not be needed.

It was not the idea of Veon's defense team to stake the outcome of a multi-million dollar, three-year investigation (and a pillar of Corbett's gubernatorial campaign) on the testimony of a dissembling thief known to colleagues as "the Grim Reaper" and a philanderer who expended as many state resources on arranging trysts with his mistress as on winning elections.

We're sure the time for praise of Veon's capable defense team will arrive when it actually launches a defense. But if you're already fearing (or cheering) the possibility of a Veon acquittal, you have the Keystone Kops at the Office of Attorney General to thank.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


We've actually lost track of the many ways disgraced government witness Michael Manzo pulverized the prosecution's case during the first week of the "Bonusgate" trial.

For one, he testified that he told prosecutors about conversations with Mike Veon long before prosecutors claim he did. Prosecutors would have the court believe that in four appearances before the grand jury and who knows how many interviews with investigators over the last year and a half, Manzo never mentioned that he'd discussed bonuses with Veon until just after the deadline for turning evidence over to the defendants. So:

* either he did tell investigators before, and the prosecutors never turned the evidence over to the defense as they are required by law to do, or

* he didn't talk to investigators about the central allegation in a three-year investigation until weeks before the start of the trial, and the prosecutors may have abetted perjury by allowing him to testify otherwise.

For another, he testified that Brett Cott, who is being tried on multiple felony charges for his role in awarding bonuses for campaign work, had nothing to do with awarding bonuses for campaign work. According to Post-Gazette reporter Tracie Mauriello's "Tweets" from the courtroom:

* Manzo: Cott had no power to give bonuses to his future wife, future sis-in-law or anyone else

* "Manzo doesn't recall Cott [ever] directly saying how much money should be given to particular staffers as bonuses.

* Manzo: Brett Cott was not involved in the genesis of the #bonusgate scheme

We are not lawyers here at CasablancaPA, but this seems to contradict the prosecution's accusations. Perhaps we are witnessing a sophisticated legal strategy that is beyond our feeble comprehension.

Finally, according to the latest update on the Post-Gazette, Manzo testified yesterday that his sexual affair with former Miss Rain Day Angela Bertugli ended around the time of his marriage. Defense attorneys today confronted Manzo with "a string of e-mail messages" proving that the two continued their physical relationship well into 2008, long past Manzo's 2005 marriage. In true Clintonian fashion, Manzo claimed his previous testimony was not a lie, because even though their physical relationship continued, he and Bertugli stopped having sexual intercourse because "I had some inability to perform." ("Manzo" actually means "beef" in Italian, not "meat;" we have a juvenile sense of humor.)

Nice work, prosecutors. We can't wait to hear from convicted thief Jeff Foreman next!