DeWeese convicted on 5 felony charges, vows to run again

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Jurors have found Democratic state Rep. Bill DeWeese, the onetime House speaker from Waynesburg, guilty on five of six felony counts in a case in which he was accused of directing his legislative staffers to perform political activities during state work hours.

The Dauphin County jury took three days to reach a verdict in a trial that could be the capstone in a four-year investigation growing out of a memorandum in his name that touched off a scandal that came to be known as Bonusgate.

Mr. DeWeese's girlfriend sobbed as the jury returned to the courtroom to render its verdict, and then cried out as the first guilty verdict was read.

It was expected that Mr. DeWeese would have to step down as a representative and lose his state pension as a result of the conviction, but he said that he plans to appeal the case and will run again. His sentencing day is April 24, the date of the scheduled Pennsylvania primary.

"I believe in the court of public opinion I will be favorably received to some substantial degree," said Mr. DeWeese. "I will certainly continue to run for renomination and re-election."

He said he intended to be sitting in his seat in the General Assembly Tuesday during Gov. Tom Corbett's budget address.

Senior Deputy Attorney General Ken Brown said in response, "He's a convicted felon and convicted felons, once they are sentenced, can't sit in the General Assembly. If he wants to spit in the face of the jury's verdict, I guess that's his prerogative."

Testimony in the trial lasted seven days, and jurors reached their verdict early Monday after taking the weekend off.

Mr. Brown, the lead prosecutor, described Mr. DeWeese during the trial as "a common thief with uncommon access to other people's money."

Prosecutors relied heavily on testimony by people who worked for Mr. DeWeese at his Capitol office in Harrisburg and his district office that campaign work was an integral part of their jobs.

Those witnesses included Mr. DeWeese's former chief of staff, Mike Manzo, who testified against his ex-boss and is awaiting sentencing under a deal in which he pleaded guilty to reduced charges. Another key witness was Kevin Sidella, a former aide who handled DeWeese's political fundraising and was granted immunity from prosecution.

Mr. DeWeese, 61, oversaw hundreds of caucus employees during his time as the House Democratic leader but said he delegated responsibility for day-to-day operations to others, including Mr. Manzo and the then-No. 2 caucus leader, Democratic whip Mike Veon of Beaver County, who is serving a six- to 14-year prison term after being convicted in a related case.

Mr. DeWeese said he advocated compliance with rules barring political activity on state time and realized only after the probe began in early 2007 that many employees were not filing required paperwork to show that their campaign activity was on their own time.

His lawyer, William Costopoulos, said Mr. DeWeese was let down by people he trusted.

"We're here because Bill DeWeese trusted everyone," Mr. Costopoulos said at the outset of the trial.

More than 30 friends and supporters turned out to testify -- some collectively -- in his defense, and Mr. DeWeese himself testified for more than three hours.

Republican Tom Corbett launched the investigation while he was attorney general and directed it until he was sworn in as governor last year.

Since he was charged in December 2009, Mr. DeWeese has made no secret of his view that the investigation was a politically motivated move by "Corbett and his cronies."

So far, 11 Democrats and nine Republicans, including former House Speaker John Perzel, have been convicted or pleaded guilty, while two defendants were acquitted and charges against another were dropped.

One last defendant, former Rep. Stephen Stetler, D-York, is slated for trial later this year.

The Associated Press contributed.


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