Bonusgate witness has agenda, defense says

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HARRISBURG -- Defense attorneys suggested this morning that a key prosecution witness is out to get Mike Veon because the former House Democratic whip refused to approve a promotion for him.

The witness, Eric Webb denied that during testimony this morning.

"That sounds sort of crazy," Mr. Webb said from the stand.

He is testifying against Mr. Veon and three former colleagues who are accused of using state dollars to subsidize political campaigns.

Mr. Webb, who was granted immunity, admitted that he maintained statistics on the amount and kind of political work done by House Democratic staffers. That list was later used to determine bonus amounts.

In testimony yesterday, Mr. Webb said volunteerism increased greatly after the bonus program was initiated in 2004. However defense attorneys this morning provided evidence that the numbers increased just slightly -- from 231 the year the bonus program started to 262 in 2006.

Also yesterday, 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.

Reached by e-mail yesterday, Mr. Estey denied requesting the research.

During a break in testimony, Bryan Walk, attorney for defendant Brett Cott, said opposition research as been going on since "the beginning of time." He said his client is charged with the same thing other politicians and officials have been doing for years.

He said Mr. Webb's testimony against Mr. Veon and Mr. Cott is tainted because he didn't get along with them.

"He has an axe to grind; he didn't get promoted and he didn't like Brett," Mr. Walk said. "I'm not saying his testimony is false, but he has a bias."

The trial continues this afternoon with testimony from Patrick "P.J." Lavelle, a former legislative research analyst who helped with campaign fund-raisers.


Tracie Mauriello: 717-787-2141 or tmauriello@post-gazette.com


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