Some of Veon's charges dropped
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HARRISBURG -- Prosecutors were stunned by a judge's dismissal yesterday of all charges against former state Rep. Mike Veon and a top aide in connection with Beaver Initiative for Growth, a nonprofit agency started by the former legislator.
"Was there a lot of indiscretion here? Tons of it," but not sufficient evidence to substantiate criminal charges filed against Mr. Veon and Annamarie Perretta-Rosepink, said Harrisburg District Judge Joseph Solomon after hearing more than seven hours of testimony.
He ruled that the state attorney general's office didn't show Mr. Veon and Ms. Perretta-Rosepink committed a crime in the way they spent millions in state grant money given to BIG. They had been charged in March with multiple counts of theft, criminal conspiracy and conflict of interest after a lengthy state grand jury investigation.
"I get the sense that the commonwealth might have a No. 4 batter, a home run hitter that can drive all the runs in, but we haven't heard from him today. We're just a step or two short. [We're] one person's testimony or two persons' testimony short of [proving] all these charges here today," Judge Solomon said.
There might be "one or two" charges that "possibly could be held for court," he said, "but in front of a jury, I don't think you're going to be able to sustain guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."
Senior Deputy Attorney General Anthony Krastek said the court used the wrong standard in deciding to dismiss the charges. He plans to refile all or nearly all 29 charges against Mr. Veon and six against Ms. Perretta-Rosepink, who ran the former legislator's Beaver Falls legislative office and worked for BIG.
He said he felt that the evidence had met the relatively low legal standard for preliminary hearings, "not whether a jury might convict or would convict."
Mr. Veon and Ms. Perretta-Rosepink still face charges filed in July for their alleged involvement in the Bonusgate scandal, in which Democratic legislators and staff members were charged with using state money to pay staffers for political work.
Mr. Veon's lead attorney in yesterday's hearing was criminal defense lawyer Daniel E. Raynak, who came from Phoenix to represent his former Allegheny College buddy and football teammate.
Attorney Joel Sansone, who also represents Mr. Veon, said the charges were politically motivated. "It's a political put-up job meant to smear good public servants," he said.
Mrs. Perretta-Rosepink said she was relieved the charges were dismissed and convinced the case was part of a witch hunt motivated by Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett's gubernatorial aspirations.
Mr. Krastek called that allegation reckless and that his office pursues charges based on evidence, not partisanship.
Mr. Veon declined to comment. He showed no emotion when Judge Solomon ruled. His wife, Stephanie Veon, meanwhile, pumped her fist in the air and blurted "Whoa! Yes!"
Seven witnesses testified at the preliminary trial, including former state Rep. Terry Van Horne, who conceded he may have committed a crime when he cashed a $5,000 check from Beaver Initiative for Growth even though he had never done any work for the group.
Mr. Van Horne, who testified under immunity, said he had been doing legislative work for the House Democratic caucus, which he says owed him about $19,000 for nine months of work. He had been sending invoices but was never paid until one day he was summoned to Mr. Veon's Capitol office where he was given a $5,000 check drawn from Beaver Initiative for Growth's account.
"From BIG, I did not earn it," he testified.
"Are you saying you committed a crime?" Mr. Raynak asked during cross-examination.
Another witness, Jeff Foreman, testified that while he was a legislative aide, BIG gave him a $4,000-a-month retainer to perform legal work even though some months there was no work and other months there was only a few hours of work. "I thought it was very generous," said Mr. Foreman, who testified that he believed he was chosen because of his personal relationship with Mr. Veon.
Even though there was little work to do, Mr. Veon hired an additional attorney for BIG, Ira Weiss, because a lobbyist asked him "to assist Mr. Weiss," Mr. Foreman testified. "I don't think there was need for a second solicitor."
Government watchdogs and others said the dismissal of the charges could have implications for the wider-reaching Bonusgate probe, which involved 12 defendants affiliated with the House Democratic caucus.
Tim Potts, a leader of Democracy Rising PA, who had sharply clashed with Mr. Veon in 2005 over the now-rescinded legislative pay raise, called the dismissal "an embarrassment" to the attorney general.
"After today, everybody is going to question the quality of the evidence against those people who were previously charged," he said.
First Published May 22, 2009 12:00 am