Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Given the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's unconditional hero-worship of Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett and its unceasing vilification of Mike Veon, it's worth noting whenever the Trib allows anyone within its pages to acknowledge that Team Veon just might have a point. ("'Strong issues' may aid Veon" 3/31/10)

Lawyers for Veon and his co-defendants have asked for a mistrial based on the jury's attempt to conduct its own investigation. The lawyers also have indicated their intention to raise several issues on appeal: "replacement of a juror after five days of deliberations; limits placed on cross-examination; the judge's denial of 'selective prosecution' as a defense; and accusations of intimidation and bullying of House staffers by the attorney general's agents and lawyers during their investigation."

The Trib's response to pretty much every point Team Veon has raised in the last year and a half since indictment has been mocking derision. ("Veon's lame rationale" 6/7/09) So, based on past practice, the Trib would be expected to haul out legal experts to explain why each and every one of these issues is a piddling matter beneath the court's attention as well as to point out that the defendants' mothers wear combat boots.

Instead, the Trib deigned to include Pitt law school professor John Burkoff's observation that "Criminal convictions have been reversed on each and every one of those issues."


Sunday, March 28, 2010


It may not mean much as a legal argument, but the "everybody does it" defense seems to be putting Tom Corbett in the hot seat. Proceedings against former House Democratic Campaign Chair Steve Stetler have been delayed while the prosecutorial arm of the Corbett campaign scrambles to answer charges that Corbett himself used state resources to campaign.

As reported by ABC 27 back in October and again by the Patriot-News in February, taxpayer-funded state Attorney General staff exchanged hundreds of phone calls during work hours on their state phones not only with Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett himself, but with campaign workers Marie Conley and Joe Murzyn.

Curiously, Corbett has chosen to defend himself against accusations of one crime - using state resources for campaign purposes - by confessing to another: using campaign funds for non-campaign purposes. “This has nothing to do with using government resources for campaign purposes. It’s the exact opposite of that,” [Corbett spokesman Kevin] Harley said. Yeah, that's a crime, too, Kev. There are laws restricting the use of campaign funds to, you know, campaign work.

The defense is not only ludicrous, but incomplete: "As for why calls appear to be made from others in Corbett’s campaign staff to state phones, Harley said he didn’t know."

Six months' worth of itemized bills from Marie Conley's campaign phone and two months' worth from Joe Murzyn's phone show hundreds of calls to and from at least a dozen state phones during work hours - not only in the Office of Attorney General, but also the state offices of Sen. Domenic Pileggi, Sen. Jeff Piccola and Rep.Dan Moul. View the itemized bills and copies of the campaign checks here.

The Corbett campaign may think it's plausible enough that Corbett could have been discussing state business with state workers on his campaign-funded phone (did we mention it's a crime to spend campaign funds for non-campaign purposes?), but we are just dying to know what these state workers were discussing with campaign staffers.

Whether Corbett will face charges based on the accusations remains to be seen. But the blatant hypocrisy could and should be a factor Corbett's gubernatorial campaign. After all, those taxpayer-funded state OAG workers probably weren't discussing the weather during their hundreds of phone calls on state time with campaign operatives.

What were campaign operatives Marie Conley and Joe Murzyn discussing with state workers on state time on their state phones? Will we ever get more than a feeble "I don't know" from the Corbett campaign? (Or from Pileggi, Piccola and Moul, for that matter?) If they worked for anyone in the Capitol other than Tom Corbett, they'd have been hauled before a grand jury and forced to answer under oath.

Side note: While it may not rise to the level of a crime, we're disturbed by Corbett's repeated and disputed claim that he uses two phones - one for state work and one for campaign work. He first made the claim to ABC 27 in September. Then in November, under questioning from the Associated Press, he claimed he uses his "personal" cell phone for both state and campaign business, and he doesn't even know the number of his state-issued cell phone. But in January he again made the claim on WITF-FM ("I carry two, by the way"), and then denied it again to the Patriot-News, saying he uses his "personal/campaign Blackberry" to make and receive all calls (did we mention it's a crime to spend campaign funds for non-campaign purposes?) If he thinks it's all hunky-dory to use one campaign-funded phone for both state and campaign calls (it's not), why does he keep claiming to use two?

Saturday, March 27, 2010


Of the 322 criminal charges Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett filed against 12 House Democrats that have been adjudicated, there have been 50 convictions. Yes, that's a success rate of 15.5%.

There were 35 charges brought against Mike Veon and Annamarie Perretta-Rosepink in connection with Beaver Initiative for Growth that were dismissed.

There were six charges brought against Sean Ramaley in connection with his employment as a Veon staffer. Ramaley was acquitted of all six.

There were 114 charges dismissed against defendants who pleaded guilty.

And the other four defendants who went to trial were acquitted of 117 charges.

The defendants have asked for a mistrial based on the jurors' wildly-improper attempt to investigate the allegations on their own, and they have indicated they intend to appeal. If their efforts are successful, Corbett's conviction rate drops to less than 9%.

Corbett and his supporters were bound to claim victory even if only a single charge out of the hundreds stuck. But no matter how much of a political victory Corbett and his supporters want to claim, anyone familiar with criminal proceedings would call the 15.5% conviction rate for the investigation a dismal failure.

Which, of course, is fine with the Corbett team, because the charges were brought for their political value and not their legal validity. Besides, no one's going to call the future Governor's investigation a failure publicly.

The Corbett campaign has tried to downplay the millions of dollars in taxpayer money and thousands of hours of manpower it has invested in this fiasco, pointing out that the dozens of state employees who've devoted a majority of their work hours to this case would have been paid whether working on this politically-motivated case or some other.

(Ironically, the prosecutorial arm of the Corbett campaign scoffed at that very line of reasoning when it was offered as a defense in the Veon trial)

Lead prosecutor E. Marc Constanzo sputtered that Veon was convicted in seven of the 11 "criminal episodes" the Corbett campaign developed. (He's wrong: Veon was charged in 12 "episodes") But if that's the measure by which the Corbett campaign wants to be judged, what does it say that a jury cleared one defendant in all three "episodes" in which he was charged, another in eight of nine "episodes," and another in four of five? Throw in Ramaley's acquittal and the dismissal of the BIG charges, Corbett's success rate as measured by "episode" units is still only 28% for the five defendants who went to trial.

The voters have to examine two possibilities:

1)The Corbett campaign knew prosecutors couldn't prove the vast majority of the charges they brought, and proceeded anyway, wasting vast amounts of taxpayer resources on political gain.

2) The Corbett campaign mistakenly thought prosecutors could prove the vast majority of the charges they brought, wasting vast amounts of taxpayer resources on their own ignorance and incompetence.

Monday, March 22, 2010


It will be forgotten by tomorrow, as the Tom Corbett Gubernatorial Campaign spins his less-than-16% conviction rate as an enormous victory, but let's pause for a moment and imagine how it felt for Team Corbett to hear the words "not guilty" 117 times in a row.

Three years, millions of taxpayer dollars, countless state staff man-hours ....only to hear again and again, "not guilty....not guilty ... not guilty."

And just think: he still has to try a dozen more defendants on similar charges ... with similar evidence and similar witnesses.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


At this moment, on the hard drives of at least a few editorial writers around the state, there reside two versions of an editorial.

According to one version, Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett's case against Mike Veon and company was weak, his witnesses not credible, the evidence thin. Boo!

According to the other, Corbett's case was airtight, his witnesses steadfast and true, the evidence overwhelming. Yay!

The case is over, of course, and the jury continues to deliberate. Anyone who paid attention to the six-week trial has long since drawn conclusions about the worthiness of Corbett's case. What will determine which version of the editorial sees the light of day is not the worthiness of the case, but the verdict.

We doubt there is an editorial writer in the state who is willing to call the case weak if the jury convicts on most charges, or vice versa. To be completely honest, we doubt there is an editorial writer in the state who's paid enough attention to the case to have developed an informed opinion, not that that will stop them from opining. The reporters in the courtroom, and those who followed their Twitter feeds, have a pretty good idea of what transpired. But "mainstream" media coverage has been shallow, cursory and scant.

Our prediction: rather than offer readers a useful analysis of how candidate Corbett has spent millions of taxpayer dollars and countless state worker man-hours over the last three years, editorial boards will treat the case as they treat most complex subjects - like a horse race.

Monday, March 15, 2010


Uninformed commentary - it's all the rage! All the cool kids are doing it, and now the Post-Gazette's Ruth Ann Daily is getting into the act.

There are so many inaccuracies, both on Daily's part and the part of her sources, we hardly know where to begin.

First of all, please point us to the portion of the week-long defense case in which any of the defendants or their lawyers argued anything close to "Sure, these guys broke the law, but only a little bit and hey, everybody's doing it." What the defense has argued is that the prosecution did not prove its case. Witness after witness testified they took their direction from Mike Manzo, Jeff Foreman or Scott Brubaker. All of whom, by the way, have admitted they broke the law and have pleaded guilty to multiple felonies, and testified in exchange for the possibility of reduced sentences.

Which leads us to Tim Potts' ludicrous argument that an acquittal for Veon and company will give lawmakers and staff free rein to campaign on state time and on the state dime. Has Potts forgotten that people have been held accountable? Do their convictions not serve as the deterrent Potts thinks lawmakers so desperately need?

We wish that, instead of trotting out some meaningless "law & order" rhetoric, Daily had actually attempted some journalism and pressed Potts on exactly what he means by "the evidence everyone has seen." We've followed the case closely and have seen an abundance of evidence and testimony that Mike Manzo and Scott Brubaker, with the blessing and cooperation of Bill DeWeese, coordinated and executed a plan to reward campaign volunteerism with bonuses, and that Jeff Foreman directed staff to campaign on state time and seek state reimbursement for their expenses. Three of the four have been held accountable, have pleaded guilty and await sentencing

If Potts is worried about allowing anyone to "get away with" anything, he should be asking Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett why DeWeese has escaped indictment in the scandal.

The idea that anyone would look to the experience of the four current defendants - who, even if they're acquitted, have lost their jobs and reputations, have seen personal relationships destroyed, and likely face years of debt for legal bills - and take that as encouragement to follow the example of Manzo, Brubaker, Foreman and DeWeese defies logic.

Friday, March 12, 2010


It's bad enough the Patriot-News hasn't bothered to send a reporter to a trial that culminates a story it broke with its own reporting.

But if today's "commentary" by Laura Vecsey is any indication, no one at that Patriot-News is bothering to read anyone else's coverage of the trial.

First of all, Vecsey (and anyone proofing the copy over there), the name of Mike Veon's attorney is Joel Sansone, not Santone.

And the name of the lead prosecutor is E. Marc Costanzo, not Constanza. (Perhaps Vecsey and the Patriot-News staff are spending their time watching Seinfeld reruns instead of paying attention to the trial!)

After a six-week trial that raised significant questions of prosecutorial intimidation, the credibility of witnesses, the accuracy of exhibits, the thoroughness of the investigation, the motivation of both investigators and witnesses and the very foundation of Pennsylvania's legal, governmental and political institutions, Vecsey is concerned with just one point: Why were the the closing arguments so loooooooooong?

We're sorry you were bored, Laura. Those who've actually followed the trial, both in the courtroom and on Twitter, know that attorneys for each of the four defendants were limited to just two hours. Those who've covered the courts for more than part of one day know it's unusual for an attorney to be held to such a limit. Anyone who'd given a single moment's thought to the entirety of the trial could probably figure out that two hours is a pretty short time to sum up six weeks of testimony.

We wonder if Vecsey is even aware that the trial has been going on for six weeks. The column reads like she just accidentally stumbled into a random courtroom and based her assumptions on nothing more than what she heard in the few hours she was there.

It's a shame that the Patriot News couldn't be bothered to spend more than a few hours on a six-week trial - especially since it wants to portray the story it broke as enormously significant.

Brace yourself, Patriot-News: the prosecution today will be allowed to drone on for four hours! Better bring a comic book to keep yourself entertained.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


KDKA'S Jon Delano: "In a February 2008 interview with me, [Bill DeWeese] stated categorically he had no knowledge of the large legislative bonuses, saying he delegated authority to staff and others."

DeWeese: No leader can be involved at that tactical level day in day out, if you have that many people. There are just too many people. And in the Marine Corps we were taught to choose good subordinates.

Delano: "Ultimately, DeWeese fired Manzo and other staffers for their role in Bonusgate.

"But in the same interview with me, I asked DeWeese specifically about Veon's role in the bonuses."

Delano: Did you delegate to him responsibility for allocation of bonuses?"

DeWeese: No.

Delano: It was to your senior staff people?

DeWeese: I'm ... gonna ask the attorney general to ... come forward and see exactly what they think is the case.

Delano: "Veon's lawyers had hoped DeWeese would help exonerate Veon. But by taking the Fifth, jurors at Veon's trial won't hear DeWeese's words under oath.

"Now, again, DeWeese cannot be compelled to testify if he believes his testimony will incriminate himself. Today, DeWeese's attorney said of the Veon trial, quote, this is not DeWeese's fight. But given the finger-pointing among these top Democrats, it's no surprise Veon wanted jurors to hear the Democratic Leader say Veon was not delegated responsibility for bonuses.


Former House Democratic Caucus Leader H. William DeWeese, who has proclaimed far and wide his innocence in the "bonus" case now before Dauphin County Court, refuses to testify in the case lest he incriminate himself.

For the one or two sycophants (posting comments to this blog from deep inside DeWeese's rectum) who still cling to delusions of DeWeese's innocence, "I had no idea" is not an incriminating statement.

Therefore, "I had no idea" is a statement that DeWeese could not make truthfully under oath. And since DeWeese has been saying "I had no idea," for about three years now, that means he's been .... anyone? That's right, class: lying his worthless ass off.

Now, either the Gubernatorial Candidate who's been investigating this case for three years knows that DeWeese's protestations of innocence are false, and engaged in some shady deal to protect him from indictment, which makes him ... anyone? That's right, class: a repugnant hypocrite.

Or, the Gubernatorial Candidate who's been investigating this case for three years doesn't know that DeWeese's protestations of innocence are false, which makes him ... anyone? That's right, class: breathtakingly incompetent.

But, since no one in the Capitol media corps seems the least bit interested in figuring out exactly why Tom Corbett gave DeWeese a pass, it's likely that Pennsylvania will end up with a governor who is either a repugnant hypocrite or breathtakingly incompetent. Nice work, press corps. Three cheers!

Monday, March 8, 2010


During a campaign stop this week, Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett called for some changes in the law.

Problem is, he's already charged someone with violating this new law that he hasn't invented yet.

Capitolwire reporter Laura Olson wrote yesterday:
"[Corbett] also pointed to the accusations against [former state Rep. Mike] Veon as an example of the need to switch the legislative daily expense system from a flat amount to reimburse only for actual expenses. Veon and others allegedly used taxpayer funds to pay for meals after weeknight basketball games. 'They double-dipped' by taking per diems and charging meals to legislative accounts, he said."

If there's a need to change the law, then what Veon did must not be illegal yet. But Corbett charged him with a crime (quite a few, actually), so what he did must already be illegal. But if it's already illegal, there must not be a need to change the law.

Oh, politically-motivated criminal prosecutions are so confusing!

Many members of the House, who commonly used contingency accounts to purchase meals and still collected full per diems also were confused, so House Comptroller Alexis Brown issued a memo to clarify:
"We have received an advisory opinion from a tax attorney assuring us there are no tax consequences for members receiving a per diem when the employer (the House)provides a meal for the benefit of the member on the employer's premises [as all Veon's Tuesday night dinners were]. Thus, when the Chief Clerk provides meals in the rear of the chamber due to our session schedule, or when a meal is provided during a caucus or committee meeting [such as a meeting of the deputy whips], there are no tax consequences for members, and thus, no need to adjust any per diems for that day."

The memo was issued September 8, 2008, two months after Veon was arrested for abiding by the very advice contained in the memo.

And now, nearly two years after indicting Veon for claiming per diems after consuming House-paid meals, Corbett calls for outlawing the claiming of per diems after consuming House-paid meals.

We're pretty sure Corbett attended law school (though perhaps not a "Top Ten" school like one of our recent commenters); did his law professors ever mention that prosecutors can charge people with violating only existing laws, not imaginary laws that the prosecutors wish existed?

And it shouldn't take a law professor to recognize that if a prosecutor wants to pretend that the law already exists, (since he's already charged someone with violating it) perhaps he shouldn't go around the state demanding that it be created.

Monday, March 1, 2010


Far be it from us to speculate on the motives of the Tribune-Review, which heretofore has been Gubernatorial Candidate Tom Corbett's biggest cheerleader.

But as the prosecution's "bonusgate" case against Mike Veon and company appears to be crumbling around Corbett, the Trib appears to be clearing a little room on its dance card.

The disaster unfolding in Courtroom One of the Dauphin County Courthouse is not listed among the reasons Rohrer might best Corbett in the upcoming Republican primary. No, Rohrer deserves a second look because he "understands budgets better than the vast majority of lawmakers." He'll "be a formidable debater." Or perhaps it's just that he "might be in the right place at the right time."

Unspoken is the fact that Corbett just may have wasted three year's time, millions of dollars and untold Commonwealth resources on a politically-motivated investigation with very little to show for it.

If Corbett's biggest boosters are now searching for an escape hatch, can the crashing and burning be far behind?