Pa. lawmaker collecting funds for imprisoned predecessor
HARRISBURG -- When Republican state Rep. Garth Everett was elected in 2006, he was succeeding a longtime friend and colleague.
Now that friend -- Brett Feese of Lycoming County -- is among the former state lawmakers serving time for convictions on public corruption charges, and Mr. Everett is asking legislative colleagues to help him financially as the holidays approach.
Mr. Everett, also of Lycoming, emailed fellow House Republicans on Monday that he is collecting funds from anyone interested in contributing to Feese's inmate account, which he can use to buy stamps and stationary, make phone calls and pay for cable TV or other extras.
"They come up and ask me all the time if there's anything we can do," Mr. Everett said of House colleagues who worked with his predecessor. "At this time of year, there is something we can do."
His gesture represents the dilemma that some lawmakers now face: How do you support a friend and colleague who brought disrepute to the Legislature?
Feese, 58, began a four- to 12-year prison sentence in February following his conviction stemming from the state attorney general's legislative probe.
The six-term state lawmaker and former head of the House Republican Campaign Committee unsuccessfully fought 40 criminal counts for his role in a scheme to use more than $10 million in taxpayer funds on computer software used in campaigning.
While prosecutors pointed to former House Speaker John Perzel, R-Philadelphia, as the mastermind behind creating databases that would be used both for legitimate state work and political campaigning, they said Feese fabricated notes that supposedly had come from an internal caucus investigation and failed to disclose other evidence.
Of the nine House Republican lawmakers and staffers charged in that portion of the probe, all except Feese and his former aide pleaded guilty to reduced charges.
Mr. Everett wrote to his colleagues that the legal fees; fines; restitution; and loss of his income, pension and family's health care benefits have "wreaked havoc" upon Feese's finances.
"It is what it is," he said in an interview. "We have some former members in jail. That doesn't mean they're not people."
Feese and Mr. Everett are both natives of Montoursville, attending grade school together and eventually working at the same law firm following Mr. Everett's tenure in the Air Force. When Feese became chief counsel for the caucus, Mr. Everett ran for his seat.
The sitting representative said he visits Feese about once a month at SCI Waymart in northeast Pennsylvania, and described him as handling his term at the facility "amazingly well."
As for the response from his caucus, Mr. Everett said he considered the positive and negative responses he might receive before sending his note. One lawmaker, Rep. Stephen Bloom, R-Cumberland, tweeted that it was "unnerving" to see colleagues soliciting money for lawmakers in jail.
Mr. Everett said he hasn't gotten any negative messages, and several legislators have told him their checks are in the mail. In addition to depositing the funds, he will be sending a Christmas card mentioning all who contributed.
"He's in a tough jam, but that doesn't mean he's not a friend of mine," Mr. Everett said.
Feese is among seven former state lawmakers currently behind bars, with an eighth -- former Democratic Sen. Bob Mellow of Scranton -- due to join that tally in January.
Perzel is serving at least 21/2 years at SCI Laurel Highlands, where former House Democratic Whip Mike Veon also is imprisoned on corruption charges.
One-time House Speaker Bill DeWeese, D-Waynesburg, is serving his public-corruption sentence at SCI Retreat, also in northeastern Pennsylvania.
When DeWeese left the General Assembly in April before his sentencing, Mr. Everett was among those on the House floor giving him a standing ovation.
His constituents in Lycoming County noticed, some criticizing Mr. Everett for doing so given DeWeese's conviction for directing legislative staffers to carry out campaign work on state time.
Mr. Everett said he and DeWeese went to dinner together several times during DeWeese's final years in the Legislature, noting the veteran lawmaker's knowledge of history.
"Unless you've served in something like [the General Assembly], you don't appreciate the camaraderie," he said.
First Published December 5, 2012 12:00 am