DeWeese defense: Everyone does it; judge orders trial

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HARRISBURG -- State Rep. Bill DeWeese told a grand jury in December that he employed state workers who did campaign work during business hours from their desks in legislative offices.

A transcript of that testimony was read this afternoon during a preliminary hearing on charges that Mr. DeWeese illegally used state resources for political gain.

Asked whether he was concerned that political work was being done on state time, Mr. DeWeese told the grand jury this: "That was not unusual. That was part of the culture. Looking back it was wrong. We shouldn't have done it but it was part of the political culture on Capitol Hill."

Prosecutors said Mr. DeWeese's own words helped them make their case during a preliminary hearing today.

"The defendant has clearly admitted to the crimes with which he was charged," prosecutor Kenneth Brown said.

Mr. DeWeese's attorney, William C. Costopoulos, disagreed, saying the Democratic state representative from Waynesburg "has not admitted to any crime" and that the charges against him are politically motivated and petty.

Whether he is guilty will be up to a jury.

Harrisburg District Judge William Wenner today held Mr. DeWeese for trial.

Co-defendant Sharon Rodavich, a former district office staffer, is headed to trial, too. She waived her right to a preliminary hearing today.

Mr. DeWeese described to grand jurors "a frenzied effort to raise money" that involved state workers.

"It's not an excuse, but it was part of the culture," Mr. DeWeese told the grand jury. "That was part of the world, the culture of the Legislature."

Later, he told reporters that he knew state employees were doing political work but didn't know they were doing it on state time. He said he told them to use vacation days, compensatory time and lunch hours.

Mr. Sidella, who testified this morning, said that Mr. DeWeese did sometimes tell him to do the work over lunch, but sometimes that instruction came at 3 p.m., long after he had taken his break.

Others testified that Mr. DeWeese twice threatened to fire people from their state jobs because their campaign work didn't meet his expectations.

Mr. DeWeese later said he may have threatened to fire them in the heat of anger, but that he didn't mean it.

Mr. Brown summed up the grand-jury testimony this way:

"This defendant, a public official, not only reached one hand but reached both hands into the taxpayers' pockets and pulled out as much money as he could, and he got caught. It's for a jury to decide from this point on."

A trial date has not yet been set.

Mr. DeWeese told reporters he hopes to go to trial before November, when Attorney General Tom Corbett -- whose office is prosecuting him -- faces voters in a gubernatorial election.

He said he will bring in "a battalion of witnesses" to testify that he routinely asked staffers to ensure any campaign work they did was not on state time.

Tracie Mauriello: or 717-787-2141.


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