DeWeese takes the Fifth in Bonusgate jury trial
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HARRISBURG -- Former Speaker of the House Bill DeWeese Tuesday avoided testifying in the corruption trial of his onetime right-hand man, former state Rep. Mike Veon, while defense attorneys tried to chip away at investigators' tactics in the case.
Mr. DeWeese, a Democratic state representative from Waynesburg, invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in a meeting in the chambers of Dauphin County Common Pleas Judge Richard A. Lewis. He left the courthouse Tuesday morning without comment.
Lawyers for the prosecution and defense in the Bonusgate case declined to describe the conversation inside Judge Lewis' chambers, but Mr. DeWeese's attorney, William Costopoulos, later confirmed that his client would not testify.
Mr. DeWeese also is facing criminal charges in an investigation growing out of the same payroll bonus scandal that resulted in criminal counts against two dozen state officials, including Mr. Veon, and legislative staff. Mr. DeWeese was charged late last year with using legislative aides and state resources for his re-election efforts.
Lawyers for Mr. Veon and his three co-defendants had wanted to call Mr. DeWeese as a witness, hoping to establish that he was culpable and knowledgeable about the $1.4 million in bonuses prosecutors say were paid from taxpayer funds to reward staff who worked on Democratic election campaigns in 2004 and 2006.
"I can tell you that Rep. Bill DeWeese is not on trial. This is not his fight. I can also tell you that Bill DeWeese is not going to testify either for the commonwealth or the defense in this case and that has been my position from day one," Mr. Costopoulos said.
Mr. DeWeese has said that he cooperated throughout the attorney general's investigation and his supporters expressed anger that he was later charged in an unrelated matter they contend was relatively minor.
When the trial resumed Tuesday morning, Nancy Thompson, a former assistant to Mr. Veon, testified that an investigator screamed at her and drove her to tears during an interview that was part of a government corruption investigation.
Ms. Thompson said prosecutor James Reeder tried to get her to say she saw piles of election petitions in Mr. Veon's Capitol office by asking her the same question again and again.
"I said, 'No, I don't remember the stacks on the table,' and he just screamed at me," Ms. Thompson told the jury. "He would get very upset with me and he would make me cry when I could not remember. ... It got ridiculous."
She said Mr. Reeder told her doing the interview that she must have been the only person in Mr. Veon's office doing legislative work because others in the office had already indicated that they spent the majority of their time on political work.
Ms. Thompson is the second witness in the Bonusgate corruption case to accuse Mr. Reeder of improper conduct.
Former state Rep. Dan Surra testified Monday that Mr. Reeder cursed at him and called him a liar during a separate investigative interview two years ago.
In an interview outside the courtroom, Senior Deputy Attorney General E. Marc Costanzo said there was "vulgarity on both sides" during the Surra interview and the meeting was "not a happy event."
Mr. Reeder was not in court Tuesday, but Mr. Costanzo responded on his behalf. He said Mr. Reeder acted properly during his interview of Ms. Thompson. He indicated that the repetitive questioning was aimed at getting to the truth in a pretrial interview.
"She was clearly trying to slant what she was remembering, and it is a normal investigative technique when questions aren't being answered directly to ask again in a number of ways to elicit a complete response," Mr. Costanzo said.
"There was an extravaganza of campaign work going on all around her, and what she said in the proffer was that she saw none of it," he said.
During the interview, and initially on the stand Tuesday, Ms. Thompson said she never saw nominating petitions in Mr. Veon's office. On further questioning, though, she said she saw staffers going in and out of the office with copies of petitions related to the Ralph Nader presidential campaign.
According to other witnesses, dozens of caucus staffers spent a week scrutinizing the petitions for errors that would get Mr. Nader knocked off the 2004 presidential ballot because Democrats feared he would siphon votes from Sen. John Kerry.
In other testimony, Ms. Thompson said she often worked on political campaigns, but never on state time or in the Capitol. She said there is a "culture of campaign work in the entire Capitol" and that many employees took legislative jobs because they cared about politics.
Others who testified Tuesday include three character witnesses for defendant Stephen Keefer who said he has a reputation for being honest and law-abiding. Mr. Keefer is former caucus director of information technology.
On trial with Mr. Veon and Mr. Keefer are former legislative aides Brett Cott and Annamarie Perretta-Rosepink. All are charged with theft, conflict of interest and conspiracy for allegedly scheming to use public resources to run political campaigns.