Veon given 6-14 years
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HARRISBURG -- Former state Rep. Mike Veon, a one-time Harrisburg powerbroker, apologized for his mistakes Friday and asked for mercy but got little of it from a Dauphin County judge, who sentenced him to state prison for six to 14 years for public corruption.
Mr. Veon, who was a legislator from Beaver County for 22 years, also must pay $37,000 in fines and $100,000 in restitution to the state after being convicted of major involvement in a legislative corruption scheme known as Bonusgate.
After getting the stiff sentence from Common Pleas Judge Richard Lewis, Mr. Veon, 53, was handcuffed and ordered to prison immediately.
His attorneys, Dan Raynak and Joel Sansone, filed an emergency appeal to state Superior Court to have him released on bail. The court later Friday gave Judge Lewis a week to explain why he allowed no bail.
During Friday's sentence hearing, Judge Lewis noted the many letters of support Mr. Veon had gotten from friends and relatives and as a result of his years of work in the Legislature, which ended with a re-election defeat in 2006. But Judge Lewis also said that Mr. Veon's conviction on 14 counts of conflict of interest, conspiracy and theft were serious matters deserving punishment.
"These offenses were a clear and dramatic violation of public trust, a flagrant abuse of power," the judge said. "The defendant perverted the electoral process and damaged any perception of fairness and equality. The audacity of the scheme [to use taxpayers' funds for political purposes] grew dramatically over the three years" from 2004 to 2006.
Word finally got out in early 2007 that taxpayer-funded bonuses had been paid to some House staffers who'd spent some of their official legislative workdays illegally working on political campaigns. Attorney General Tom Corbett opened an investigation, which continues.
Mr. Veon was convicted of using $1.9 million worth of taxpayer resources -- included bonuses, office equipment and employee work time -- to subsidize political campaigns, expand his power base and shut out political opponents who played by the rules.
"He created a political juggernaut able to attract hundreds of volunteers with the lure, the promise and the reality of receiving taxpayer-funded bonuses," Judge Lewis said. "Tax dollars were prostituted for political ambition."
Mr. Corbett's investigators began probing the use of state-funded bonuses that were given to the state employees who worked on campaigns. The Post-Gazette first reported the connection between bonuses and campaign work in early 2007.
Besides Mr. Veon, also sentenced Friday was a former aide, Annamarie Perretta-Rosepink, 47, who ran his legislative office in Beaver Falls. She was sentenced to three to six months in Dauphin County Jail, followed by three months house arrest and 45 months probation. She also was ordered to pay $8,000 in fines and $25,000 in restitution.
But unlike Mr. Veon, Mrs. Perretta-Rosepink was released on $25,000 bail, pending her appeal of the conviction.
More than 50 Veon friends and relatives were in court to show support Friday. As Mr. Veon was being led out of the courtroom with his hands cuffed behind him, a young man yelled out, "I love you, Dad. We are here for you, Dad." A woman then yelled, "We love you, Mike."
The only family member who would identify herself was Nancy Veon, who said, "I am his proud sister-in-law." She's married to Mr. Veon's brother, John.
"[Mike] is the only one who could take it," Nancy Veon said. "That is why they went after him. They were setting a precedent."
Among the Veon supporters in court Friday were two former colleagues, Democratic state Reps. Mark Cohen of Philadelphia and Mike Sturla of Lancaster, who declined to comment on the sentence.
Mr. Raynak contended that others on the House Democratic staff had played a larger role in the illegal bonus system than Mr. Veon did, and yet were being treated lighter because they were cooperating with the attorney general.
But prosecuting attorney Patrick Blessington told the judge, "The defendant and the defendant alone was the leader" of the bonus scheme, adding, "He was responsible for the day-to-day operations. The victim was the taxpayer on one hand and democracy on the other."
Mr. Raynak said Mr. Veon had been "an excellent public servant" and is "a very strong person." But he added he was concerned about the effect the case is having on Mr. Veon's parents, wife, son and brothers.
Before sentence was imposed, Mr. Veon addressed the court, asking the judge to consider his work ethic, his contributions to his community and his tireless work in the Legislature.
"What I did was with the highest ideals in mind," he said. He asked the court not to hold it against him that he chose to go to trial instead of entering a plea agreement.
"Because you go to trial does not mean you're not contrite or you're not sorry for whatever happened," Mr. Veon said.
"I have made mistakes in my life and in my career and I'm sorry for those mistakes ... I have always been someone who stood up and took responsibility for my mistakes and apologizes when appropriate and necessary. There are many things that I would do differently ... if I had the opportunity to do them over again."
Mr. Blessington contended that Mr. Veon's statement was an attempt to minimize his crimes and said he still has not taken responsibility for them. He said the same of Mrs. Perretta-Rosepink, who had addressed the court earlier.
Senior Deputy Attorney General Marc Costanzo said Mr. Veon's sentence is less than the state had asked for "but that's the judge's call. The judge went through a thoughtful process. He doesn't have an easy job."
Mr. Costanzo said the Bonusgate scandal "was a case where people were caught ... spending tax dollars to pay bonuses and other things to help get themselves re-elected ... It's clear that that's a crime [and] that we are not going to tolerate it."
Mr. Sansone filed an emergency appeal to state Superior Court to overturn the judge's no-bail ruling so Mr. Veon could be released "as soon as possible." Mr. Raynak said the conviction itself will be appealed and a new trial sought.
"We believe we will have success on appeal. We have many good grounds, including selective prosecution," he said. Asked what that meant, he said, "I think Tom Corbett wanted to get elected governor and used Mike Veon as a stepping stone. The goal [of prosecutors] was to get a conviction to help Mr. Corbett."
But Nils Frederiksen, Mr. Corbett's press aide, said politics had nothing to do with the case. "This has to do with prosecuting criminals, nothing more."
Michael Palermo, attorney for Mrs. Perretta-Rosepink, said he was satisfied with his client's sentence, which he called fair.
In an emotional statement in court, Mrs. Perretta-Rosepink had asked for compassion, saying she got into trouble because she didn't know how to say no when she was asked to do political work. But she said she'd worked hard for constituents for 20 years.
"I apologize," she said. "Did what I did cross the line? Obviously."
Mr. Veon and Mrs. Perretta-Rosepink face another corruption trial later this year. They're accused of misusing millions of state dollars given as grants to Beaver Initiative for Growth, a nonprofit agency in Beaver County that they ran.
Trial is tentatively slated to begin Sept. 13.
A third defendant in the Bonusgate scandal, former House Democratic aide Brett Cott, was sentenced in May to 21 to 60 months in jail and $61,000 in restitution and fines. A fourth defendant in the case, former legislative aide Stephen Keefer, was acquitted.
First Published June 19, 2010 12:00 am