Corruption trial starts for Veon, ex-aide
HARRISBURG -- Former Democratic state Rep. Mike Veon and an ex-aide are poised to stand trial beginning today for the second time in two years, facing charges that the one-time House leader misused grant dollars directed to his nonprofit.
A panel of 12 jurors had been selected by late Tuesday afternoon. Opening statements are expected to begin by early afternoon.
Mr. Veon, 55, of Beaver County, has been serving a six- to 14-year prison sentence at the minimum-security State Correctional Institution Laurel Highlands in Somerset County since his 2010 conviction of using $1.4 million in state resources to run political campaigns.
Now he and former staffer Annamarie Perretta-Rosepink, also of Beaver County and convicted in that Bonusgate probe, return to a Dauphin County courtroom to fight more corruption charges. The charges were originally filed against the two in March 2009.
Both were seated in the courtroom Tuesday afternoon as attorneys vetted potential jurors. Mr. Veon wore a gray suit and quietly watched the proceedings.
He and Ms. Perretta-Rosepink are accused of using public funds awarded to the Beaver Initiative for Growth (BIG), a nonprofit created by the lawmaker, for campaign work instead of economic development projects. Ms. Perretta-Rosepink worked as the organization's financial officer.
Prosecutors allege that nearly $10 million in taxpayer dollars directed to BIG between 2003 and 2006 was then spent at Mr. Veon's discretion, with virtually no oversight from the agencies that funded the grants or others supposedly associated with the nonprofit.
That included issuing a no-bid contract through the nonprofit to a company Mr. Veon's brother worked for and paying for a private office for Mr. Veon on the South Side, according to prosecutors.
The charges of theft, criminal conspiracy and conflict of interest were previously dismissed but later were refiled by the U.S. attorney general's office.
Joel Sansone, one of Mr. Veon's attorneys, described the case as a political persecution by then-state Attorney General Tom Corbett, a Republican. He disputed the argument that Mr. Veon personally gained from the nonprofit's grant or that the funds were misused.
"This is a joke," Mr. Sansone said as jury selection ended for the day. "[Corbett] spent millions of the taxpayers' dollars so that he could become governor."
A spokesman for the attorney general's office declined to respond to Mr. Sansone's comment. "The charges speak for themselves," said spokesman Nils Frederiksen.
The trial is expected to last at least two weeks.
First Published February 15, 2012 12:00 am