Perzel paid aide in prison

Records show ex-campaign operative got $1,000 a month from legislator

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HARRISBURG -- Joseph Carduff was incarcerated for half of 2006, but that didn't stop state Rep. John Perzel from paying him all year for campaign work.

Election finance records show that Mr. Perzel paid him for "campaign help" -- $1,000 every month even when Mr. Carduff was in Cumberland County Jail from February to March and August to December. The payments stopped in January 2007, shortly after his release.

"It was political welfare," Mr. Carduff said yesterday. "I was a waste of money. I didn't do anything."

Mr. Perzel, R-Philadelphia, had no response to that claim yesterday, said spokesman Marty O'Rourke.

Mr. Carduff is a former Perzel ally and campaign operative. After a falling out with Mr. Perzel, he said this week that his assignments included digging up dirt that could be used against fellow Republicans who were seen as political rivals within the caucus.

It is legal to use campaign funds to pay for that kind of research, which is normally done against cross-party rivals rather than party mates. Campaign funds come from private donations, political action committees and political fundraisers, not tax dollars.

Court and campaign-finance records substantiate Mr. Carduff's claim that he continued to receive campaign checks while he was serving time for probation violations stemming from drunk driving charges in 2005.

The checks were sent to his Dauphin County apartment. His sister, who had power of attorney over his affairs, cashed them and occasionally made deposits into the jail commissary so he could buy corn chips and soap.

Mr. Carduff said he spent his jail time reading classics and watching "Star Trek," not doing campaign work.

"I never did anything for the campaign. The only tool in jail I had was a phone call, and trying to get people to accept collect calls from jail takes some doing," he said.

Mr. Carduff said he never asked Mr. Perzel why the checks kept coming.

"Why would I look a gift horse in the mouth?" he said.

He said Mr. Perzel knew he was in jail and even wrote a letter on his behalf for a parole hearing.

"Actually, John's a nice guy," Mr. Carduff said. "I've always appreciated John's help in the past. However, it's time that the truth be told. The truth is that John Perzel eats his young."

In a letter to Republican members yesterday, Mr. Perzel said allegations that he paid Mr. Carduff to find dirt on party members were "totally false, completely baseless and without merit." He did not address the payments to Mr. Carduff while he was incarcerated.

Mr. Carduff was hired to research only Democratic candidates, he said in the letter. He was hired again on a $2,000 retainer in January 2008, but he never produced any work product, so Mr. Perzel said his campaign refused to keep paying. That, he said, angered Mr. Carduff, who threatened blackmail.

"It is my hope that you will see this attempt to smear me for what it is: the actions of a desperate man," Mr. Perzel wrote. "I trust you to see through these lies and false accusations."


Tracie Mauriello can be reached at tmauriello@post-gazette.com or 1-717-787-2141.


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