Perzel to plead guilty to public corruption

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HARRISBURG -- Former House Speaker John Perzel and an ex-House GOP staffer will not be heading to trial on public corruption charges, following guilty pleas in recent weeks from three of their co-defendents.

Instead, Mr. Perzel is scheduled to plead guilty Wednesday to allegations that he was behind a scheme to spend $10 million in tax dollars on computer software used primarily for House Republican campaigns.

An order signed by Dauphin County Common Pleas Court Judge Richard A. Lewis and released this morning indicates that Mr. Perzel and Eric Ruth, a former House GOP technology office employee and Mr. Perzel's nephew, will enter guilty pleas at 1 p.m.

That action by Mr. Perzel will mark a sharp reversal on the comments that the 32-year state lawmaker from northeast Philadelphia has made up to this point. He has repeatedly claimed that he did nothing improper in regard to the caucus-funded contracts that state prosecutors say were used for political purposes.

A spokesman for the state attorney general's office could not immediately be reached for comment. An attorney for Mr. Perzel also could not immediately be reached.

Mr. Perzel, along with his former chief of staff Brian Preski, former state Rep. Brett Feese of Lycoming County, and six others, had been expected to stand trial beginning Sept. 6. On Monday, that trial date was pushed back to instead start on Sept. 26.

But rumors had been circulating for weeks that the once-high-ranking legislator would changing his strategy. A witness list filed by the attorney for one of his co-defendants did not list Mr. Perzel's lawyer among its recipients. It only listed prosecutors from the attorney general's office, as well as attorneys representing Mr. Feese and Mr. Preski.

In addition, a jury selection document filed by attorney William Fetterhoff on behalf of Mr. Preski, Mr. Feese, and Mr. Feese's former secretary Jill Seaman, also does not say it was sent to Mr. Perzel's lawyer.

Normally, attorneys for all of the defendants going to trial would receive copies of any documents filed. The absence of Mr. Perzel's attorney and counsel for five others points to a change how they will be pleading.

Mr. Fetterhoff said after filing that document that he could not speak to whether any of the scheduled defendants would not appear at trial, but did confirm that Mr. Feese, Mr. Preski and Ms. Seaman all plan to be in court.

The state Attorney General's Office filed the charges against Mr. Perzel and the others in November 2009, in its second set of arrests in a public corruption probe. The previous round involved a scheme to award taxpayer-funded bonuses to House Democratic staffers for campaign work.

Perzel, who is charged with 82 counts related to theft, criminal conspiracy, conflict of interest, and obstruction of justice, related to how he allegedly paid for voter databases used in an extensive campaign outreach system. Still, he ran for reelection in 2010 despite being under indictment and lost his seat to Democrat Kevin Boyle.

The two pleas anticipated for tomorrow will mean that at least five of the 10 defendants initially charged will not go to trial. Former Perzel aide Samuel "Buzz" Stokes, who is also Mr. Perzel's brother-in-law, campaign aide Don McClintock, and former Perzel chief of staff Paul Towhey all entered guilty pleas two weeks ago.

Former Feese aide Elmer "Al" Bowman has not entered a guilty plea, but also is not listed on the jury selection filings.

A final caucus staffer, John Zimmerman is being prosecuted separately, in a case expected to go to trial in December.

More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Laura Olson: or 717-787-4254.


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