Timeline: How the Pennsylvania Legislature bonus scandal unfolded

Share with others:

Print Email Read Later

The following timeline traces the major developments in the Pennsylvania Legislature bonus scandal as it has unfolded in Harrisburg over the past three years. Links to Post-Gazette coverage follow individual timeline entries.

July 7, 2005
State lawmakers approve hefty raises for themselves, sparking voter outrage and turning the next election cycle into one of the most contentious in Pennsylvania history.
"General Assembly votes itself a 16 percent minimum pay raise"

Nov. 5, 2005
Lawmakers buckle to public pressure and repeal the pay-raise bill. Democratic Whip Michael Veon, D-Beaver Falls, stands alone as the only lawmaker to vote against the repeal.
"Repeal of pay raises passes quickly, 50-0, as leaders ask for forgiveness"

November 2006
All House members and half of the Senate are up for re-election in an environment where angry voters are distrustful of incumbents and seeking to replace pay-raise supporters with political newcomers. Majority Leader Bill DeWeese and Mr. Veon face unusually tough races. Mr. DeWeese, D-Waynesburg, narrowly wins and Mr. Veon loses re-election to an inexperienced and virtually unknown challenger. Still, the election is a success for Democrats who -- largely because of Mr. Veon's fund-raising and campaign efforts for fellow incumbents -- took the majority for the first time in 12 years.
"Voter displeasure sends Harrisburg biggest 'freshman' class in years"

Jan. 27, 2007
The Harrisburg Patriot-News reports that some Democratic House employees received hefty bonuses accompanied by letters saying: "Since this bonus payment is of an extraordinary nature not widely received by your colleagues, we cannot stress strongly enough the need for you not to discuss this with any other person or member."

Jan. 28, 2007
Mr. DeWeese's office tells reporters that the bonuses are an "internal caucus matter" and won't discuss them or release copies of the letters sent to employees. Meanwhile, House Speaker Dennis O'Brien, R-Philadelphia, says he will order salary lists to be released.
"State House bonuses stun Rendell"

Jan. 31, 2007
House and Senate Republicans, who also gave bonuses, release lists showing amounts of the payments and who received them. Newly elected leaders of the Senate say they weren't aware of the bonuses and put an immediate stop to them. Mr. DeWeese, meanwhile, says bonuses in his caucus totalled $400,000, an amount comparable to the other caucuses.
"GOP halts bonus practice"

Feb. 1, 2007
Democrats release details of bonus disbursements, which nearly quintuple Mr. DeWeese's earlier estimate of $400,000. Bonuses ranged from $65 to more than $28,000. In all, 568 of the caucus's 814 staffers got bonuses. DeWeese calls them an effective management tool, but still suspends bonuses indefinitely. Spokesman Tom Andrews says the caucus's bonuses were higher because its salary scales are lower, but refuses to provide those scales. Mr. Andrews says: "There is no correlation between campaign work, legislative work and legislative bonuses. ... They weren't for political work. We know that's illegal."
"State House bonuses stun Rendell"

Feb. 11, 2007
The Post-Gazette reports that 80 of the 100 Democratic House staffers receiving the biggest bonuses either donated money to or worked on political campaigns of Mr. DeWeese and Mr. Veon. Those staffers received bonuses ranging from $5,700 to $28,000. By contrast, only three the 111 staffers who received the minimum bonus -- $65 -- were similarly involved in campaigns. Mr. Andrews said the bonuses were rewards for working long hours, but acknowledges that employees who received them may have received compensatory time for those hours in addition to bonuses.
"Top bonus recipients aided top Dems"

Feb. 16, 2007
Speaker O'Brien releases list of House salaries and Senate leaders soon follow suit. Some bonuses were as much as 40 percent of salaries in the Democratic caucus. Republicans limited bonuses to 10 percent.
"33 House staffers were paid over $100,000"

Feb. 23, 2007
A Post-Gazette review of salary information debunks Mr. Andrew's contention that Democrats paid higher bonuses to compensate for salaries that are lower than Republicans'. Democratic staffers actually earned average salaries of $41,262 while Republicans averaged $36,913. In both caucuses, some of the highest paid staffers also were among those who received the highest bonuses in 2006.
"Dems paid more to House staff"

Aug. 23, 2007
Agents from the state Attorney General's Office raid the Democratic Office of Legislative Research. They confiscate 20 boxes of records. The AG's office confirms that it is actively investigating the Democratic research department.
"Democratic offices searched in Harrisburg"

Sept. 2, 2007
The Post-Gazette uncovers apparent ties between campaign work and bonuses. Seven employees of the research office spent large chunks of time away from their state jobs and off state payroll to work on campaigns but still received bonuses of more than $5,000. One who spent nine months on campaign work and only three in her state job received a $9,565 bonus at taxpayer expense. Another spent seven months campaigning but still received a bonus of $12,565 on top of a $31,070 salary.
"Campaign work tied to House bonuses"

Sept. 12, 2007
Statewide grand jury meets in Harrisburg. Several Democratic caucus members are seen entering and leaving the room where testimony is being taken.
"Grand jury investigating state House pay bonuses"

Sept. 20, 2007
Attorneys for seven Democratic aides file appeals asking the State Supreme Court to block subpoenas forcing them to testify before the grand jury. The caucus, meanwhile, asks for court intervention to keep the contents of boxes seized in the Aug. 23 raid from being considered by the grand jury.
"Democrats attempting to block state probe of bonuses"

Oct. 7, 2007
The Post-Gazette reports that former state Rep. Frank LaGrotta is under investigation for putting his sister and niece in jobs and then padding their salaries. Sources report that Mr. LaGrotta has been cooperating in the bonus investigation by providing information about campaign work done by bonus recipients.
"LaGrotta points fingers at top Dems"

Oct. 16, 2007
Grand jury investigation continues. Witnesses include a Democratic House aide who spent four months away from her state job to work on campaigns and still received a taxpayer-funded bonus equal to 40 percent of her pay.
"2 more aides to testify on Democratic bonuses"

Oct. 17, 2007
Barry F. Feudale, supervising judge of the grand jury, reviews contents of boxes seized in the Aug. 23 raid and allows them to be admitted into evidence. He finds the contents to be "overwhelmingly and patently non-legislative in nature." Among the contents: files labeled "opposition research," "incumbent protection plan" and "memo on challenger in election." Democratic leaders later appeal.
"Judge clears most bonus documents for grand jury review"

Oct. 21, 2007
The Post-Gazette publishes a story suggesting state workers campaigned on state time. Brett Cott, recipient of one of the largest bonuses, spent 11 weeks straight in Beaver Falls working on Mr. Veon's re-election campaign, all the while continuing to receive a state paycheck, the newspaper found in an extensive review of campaign finance receipts and payroll records. At least 45 Democratic aides campaigned on weekdays, never left the state payroll and still received bonuses, presumably as rewards for their state work.
"Campaigning on state time"

Nov. 1, 2007
The state Supreme Court upholds Judge Feudale's decision, allowing 20 boxes of evidence seized in a raid of Democratic offices to be admitted into evidence before the grand jury.
"Grand jury to have access to House Democratic records"

Nov. 11, 2007
The Post-Gazette reports that the bonuses included nearly $80,000 to Mr. Veon's district staff alone, including $5,000 for one aide who worked in the office only three months of the year. In all, 12 full-time Veon staffers and one intern received $79,215 in bonuses.
"Veon loss pays off for aides"

Nov. 13, 2007
Mr. DeWeese forced out seven employees including his top aides who helped run the caucus who were targets of the grand jury investigation. The terminations followed an internal investigation.
"Top aides to state Dems sacked"

Nov. 14, 2007
Charges are filed against Mr. LaGrotta for paying his sister and niece for work state officials say they never performed. The niece and sister also are charged with false swearing for lying to the grand jury. Insiders speculate that the minor charges were part of a plea deal in exchange for Mr. LaGrotta's cooperation in the bonus investigation.
"Ex-Rep. LaGrotta charged in jobs scam"

Nov. 21, 2007
The Post-Gazette reports that bonus payments will increase pensions for recipients, including the aides terminated Nov. 13. Mr. DeWeese's office previously said that bonuses would not count toward compensation used to calculate pensions. The bonuses will add hundreds -- and in some cases thousands -- to their annual pensions.
"House bonuses will pad pensions"

Nov. 22, 2007
The Post-Gazette reports that the records seized in the Aug. 23 raid had been slated for destruction even as state investigators were issuing subpoenas for various documents. A tip led prosecutors to seek an expedited warrant to search the office before destruction. Other sources told the newspaper that employees were told to drill holes through computer hard drives to destroy traces of data tracking employee hours.
"State bonus investigation a step ahead of shredders"

Dec. 16, 2007
The Post-Gazette uncovers e-mail messages between the aides terminated in November. The messages show that bonus determinations were based "on the number of days people spent in the field." The group used a spreadsheet to track campaign volunteer hours and ranked employees as "rock stars," "good," and "OK." Bonuses were assigned according to the rankings.
"E-mails show how Dems tied staffers' bonuses to campaign work"

Jan. 9, 2008
The Democratic caucus has a closed-door meeting at a suburban Harrisburg hotel to discuss Mr. DeWeese's future. Members emerge saying Mr. DeWeese will remain their leader despite lingering concerns about the extent of his involvement in disbursement of bonuses. Mr. DeWeese maintains he was in the dark about the scheme. He said the only bonuses he was aware of were nominal amounts totaling $400,000 and given at Christmas.
"State House Democrats keep DeWeese as leader"

Feb. 4, 2008
Mr. LaGrotta pleads guilty to two felony counts of violating the state's conflict of interest law and is sentenced to six months house arrest. He is ordered to pay a $5,00 fine, perform 500 hours of community service and pay $27,092 in restitution. His sister and niece plead no contest to one count each of false swearing and are placed on probation.
"Ex-Rep. LaGrotta pleads guilty in ghost employee case"

Feb. 14, 2008
Gov. Ed Rendell signs into law an act designed to make government records more accessible. Proponents say the law will prevent future bonusgate-type scandals.
"Open records law puts onus on agencies"

April 11, 2008
The Post-Gazette reports that Attorney General Tom Corbett is investigating claims that on March 4, 2005 four lawmakers received $5,000 checks from Dominick DeNaples, an applicant for a casino license. They were told to deposit most of the money into Mr. Veon's campaign account. Mr. DeNaples was later awarded a casino license. The investigation is based on information provided by Mr. LaGrotta, who also is said to be cooperating in the bonus investigation.
"Checks to legislators probed"

May 11, 2008
The Post-Gazette reports that a former intern for the House Democratic caucus said he was told to shred boxes of personnel records. Prosecutors believe the time slips may have established a connection between bonuses and leave time taken to perform campaign work.
"Intern shredded papers sought in House inquiry"

June 7, 2008
The Post-Gazette reports that employees of the Democratic Legislative Research Office said their work area performed more campaign work than legitimate legislative functions. One former employee told the Post-Gazette that the office was a "parking place" for political operatives until they were needed for election work.
"Politicos 'parked' in state office"

June 15, 2008
E-mail messages obtained by the Post-Gazette show that lines between campaign and state work in Mr. Veon's offices were nearly indistinguishable. Campaign canvassers used lists of constituents who visited his district office and staet workers assembled phone scripts and voter registration strategies.
"Veon campaigners on state payroll"

June 22, 2008
The Post-Gazette reports that computer records were deleted frrom computers controlled by Mr. Veon in an apparent attempt to destroy information relevant to the grand jury's probe.
"Veon data files erased"

July 10, 2008
Charges are filed against 12 people connected with the House Democratic caucus. Grand jurors accuse them of arranging illegal bonuses for campaign work, directing staff to challenge third-party presidential candidate Ralph Nader's nomination petitions and creating no-work state jobs for a political candidate and for top aide Michael Manzo's mistress.
"12 faces charges in bonus scandal"

July 11, 2008
The 12 suspects are arraigned in Dauphin County. Most are released on their own recognizance or on unsecured bail. Mr. Manzo posts $10,000 and Mr. Veon posts $5,000 to be released.
"Job scandal suspects released"

Aug. 3, 2008
Once thought of as a DeWeese protege, young state Rep. Josh Shapiro, D-Montgomery, calls for the majority leader to step down because he lost control of his caucus.
"House Dem wants DeWeese to resign"

Aug. 15, 2008
The House Republican caucus reveals that some of its staffers have been called to testify before the grand jury investigating the use of state resources for political campaigns.
"House Republicans see some caucus staff subpoenaed"

Sept. 22, 2008
Attorney General Tom Corbett announces there will be no more charges filed until after the Nov. 4 general election.
"Bonusgate charges put off"

Oct. 7, 2008
Preliminary hearings begin for two defendants. The other 10 waive their right to hearings, clearing the way for trials. House Democratic staffers testify that they routinely performed campaign work on state time, in state offices and on state-owned computers, printers and copy machines.
"Hearings begin in bonusgate case"

Oct. 8, 2008
Mr. Manzo agrees to cooperate in the investigation and plead guilty to charges against him. He testifies that he believes Mr. DeWeese was aware of the bonus scheme. Mr. DeWeese denies knowledge and says Mr. Manzo is a desperate former employee trying to save himself from a prison sentence for his involvement in the scandal.
"Ex-aide implicates DeWeese"

Oct. 16, 2008
Mr. Manzo makes what is believed to be his first appearance before the grand jury. He is questioned for five hours.
"Aide testifies before grand jury"

November 2008
Mr. DeWeese prevails in a tough general election facing a relatively unknown challenger whose campaign included frequently references to the bonus scandal. Caucus members, meanwhile, consider Mr. DeWeese a liability because the corruption occurred on his watch. He is bumped down a peg to minority whip. Rep. Todd Eachus, D-Carbon, takes over as majority leader.
"State House Dems select McCall for speaker's post"

December 2008
Mr. Eachus orders the caucus to stop paying legal fees for bonusgate defendants.
"House Dems to stop covering legal fees"

March 16, 2009
E-mail messages surface suggesting Mr. DeWeese knew that bonuses.
"E-mails suggest DeWeese knew of bonuses"

March 26, 2009
Mr. Corbett files additional charges against Mr. Veon and his former district aide Annamarie Perretta-Rosepink. They are accused of abusing millions of dollars in state grants through Beaver Initiative for Growth, a nonprofit agency Mr. Veon created.
New charges against Veon

April 4, 2009
A Post-Gazette investigation shows the state awarded $2.4 mililion to Mr. Veon's nonprofit in 2004 even though some audits from prior grants were months overdue and other audits showed problems.
Veon nonprofit records reveal flaws in state oversight

May 21, 2009
Harrisburg District Justice Joseph Solomon dismisses Mr. Veon's and Ms. Perretta-Rosepink's charges that related to Beaver Initiative for Growth. Charges relating to the Bonusgate scandal still stand.
Some of Veon's charges dropped

May 27, 2009
Prosecutors refiled charges in the Beaver Initiative for Growth case.
Dismissed charges against Veon, aide refiled

June 3, 2009
The Post-Gazette reports that a former intern for the House Democratic caucus erased computer hard drives and destroyed e-mail backup tapes that later were sought as part of the attorney general's investigation.
Bonusgate details emerge

June 19, 2009
Documents obtained from the Post-Gazette show that former state Rep. Steve Stetler -- now state revenue secretary -- once rejected a plan that would have shifted the job of opposition research from state employees to private firms. At the time, Mr. Stetler was chairman of the House Democratic Campaign Committee.
Stetler aide links former lawmaker to Bonusgate

July 7, 2009
Dauphin County Common Pleas Judge Richard A. Lewis grants a request from former state Rep. Sean Ramaley to have his charges heard separately from those of other Bonusgate defendants. Judge Lewis schedules the trial for Sept., but later grants a postponement to Dec. 1.
Dismissed charges against Veon, aide refiled

July 22, 2009
Judge Lewis rejects Bonusgate defendants' claims of selective prosecution.
Judge denies defense of selective prosecution in Bonusgate

Sept. 4, 2009
Mr. Veon and Ms. Perretta-Rosepink return to court to face a second preliminary hearing on refiled charges relating to their use of grant money to run the nonprofit Beaver Initiative for Growth. This time the hearing is run by Judge William Wenner who orders both to stand trial on all charges
Veon and aide ordered to face trial

Oct. 23, 2009
Sources leak details of plea deals. Five of the 12 bonusgate defendants agreed to plead guilty to lesser charges and and to cooperate with prosecutors in the ongoing investigation.
Five in Bonusgate scandal to cooperate

Nov. 3 and 4, 2009
Two top GOP aides who were questioned in the corruption probe abruptly resign as word gets out that prosecutors are ramping up their investigation and targeting prominent Republicans including Rep. John Perzel, the former House speaker from Philadelphia.
Grand jury may seek charges against Perzel

Nov. 13, 2009
A statewide grand jury yesterday accused former Republican speaker of the House John M. Perzel and nine others in a scheme that misrouted more than $10 million in state funds to political causes.
Rep. John Perzel, GOP aides charged in state probe

Dec. 10, 2009
In the first case related to Bonusgate to come to trial, Mr. Ramaley was acquitted of charges that he had a no-work job in Mr. Veon's office and used the time to run his own campaign for state representative.
Jury acquits Ramaley in corruption trial

Dec. 15, 2009
Mr. DeWeese and an aide in his Waynesburg office, Sharon Rodavich, were accused by a statewide grand jury with having her on the state payroll when all of her duties were related to Mr. DeWeese's re-election campaign. Stephen Stetler, a former state representative from York who resigned as revenue secretary today, also was charged with using stte employees for campaign work while he was head of the House Democratic campaign committee.
DeWeese, Stetler charged in state corruption probe


Create a free PG account.
Already have an account?