Intern shredded papers sought in House inquiry
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HARRISBURG -- A former intern for the House Democratic Caucus says he was instructed to shred boxes of personnel records later sought in a grand jury probe into whether state employees were given taxpayer-funded bonuses in return for political work.
The shredding took place at the time a computer server was being relocated inside the Capitol building. Investigators now want to know if the move was used as cover to destroy hourly leave and compensatory time slips. Prosecutors are attempting to determine whether the destruction was part of a coverup.
The slips could have established whether those employees actually used vacation or compensatory time and whether more than $1.8 million in payroll bonuses awarded to many of them was related to the campaign work.
Additionally, those records would have helped establish any correlation between the amount of leave time taken and the size of an employee's state bonus.
A statewide grand jury is investigating allegations that state workers were given lavish pay bonuses last year to reward them for working on the 2006 campaigns of various House members, a violation of state law.
The move of the House computer, long planned according to several House insiders, took place over last summer when the computer servicing the House Democratic caucus was relocated from a leaky room under the Capitol eaves to a basement storage room in the Irvis House Office Building.
The room, known among House office workers as "Wally's World," after a clerk who oversaw it, had been used to store assorted House records, including seven years' worth of leave slips.
Tyron Arrington, a college student who interned in the office of personnel in 2007 says he told prosecutors that then-personnel director Earl Mosley instructed him to shred the documents.
Arrington, who is attending school in South Dakota, said Mr. Mosley advised him to run several boxes of records through the office paper shredder last summer.
"He took me down to the basement and said these need to be shredded," Mr. Arrington said. "He just gave me the boxes and said, 'Shred them.' "
Mr. Arrington said the assignment did not strike him as unusual.
"He was a supervisor, the boss. So whatever he said, that's what I'd do," Mr. Arrington said.
Mr. Arrington said he was later summoned by prosecutors to describe the events surrounding the destruction of the documents and was told the matter was the subject of a criminal investigation.
Pinning down connections
Mr. Mosley was among seven high-ranking Democratic caucus staff members dismissed in November after an internal review of caucus procedures. Also let go was Mr. Mosley's supervisor, Scott Brubaker, who is also now a subject of an investigation by the state attorney general.
One ranking Democratic House aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing probe, said that Mr. Mosley had said he received an opinion from House leaders that the paper records could be destroyed as long as some sort of electronic version was kept.
"Knowing there was an investigation going on, why would they shred anything?" the source said.
Without those records, prosecutors may have a hard time pinning down a direct connection between the 2006 payroll bonuses and political work done by dozens of state employees. A series of e-mails from the preceding two years shows that some top House Democratic aides had calculated earlier bonuses based on outside political work.
Establishing a case that the 2006 payroll bonuses were based on political work became more difficult, said sources close to the probe, because even partial destruction of documents compromised the "data set," making it impossible to determine every possible day an employee might have taken off to do political work.
While computer records are retained showing time off taken by employees, those records lack the full detail of the written sheets and, according to one source, are susceptible to being changed after the fact.
The shredding was discovered in October after a report in the Post-Gazette raised questions about leaves taken by two House employees, Rachel Manzo and Chris King.
At the time, Frank LaGrotta, a former legislator to whose committee the two were assigned, had told prosecutors that both employees took time off to work on political campaigns. Mr. King spent extensive leave time in a successful run for the state House.
Mr. LaGrotta said he never signed nor saw a leave slip for either Mrs. Manzo or Mr. King.
When House officials attempted to find leave slips for the pair in October, they discovered that hundreds of files had been shredded during the relocation of the computer office and the removal of the boxes kept in the basement of the Irvis Building.
A statewide grand jury sitting here is expected to hear testimony and consider a presentment recommending a range of charges connected to the payroll bonuses. Attorney General Tom Corbett has said publicly that he is investigating both the Democratic and Republican caucuses, although early work appears to have focused largely on the Democrats.
One thing state investigators are now attempting to determine is whether the electronic information on employee leave time kept on the caucus computer system was subject to manipulation.
A person who worked with the computer system said he discovered that the system could be manipulated. The attorney general last week began looking at the system to see if any manipulation did, in fact, occur, backdating the entry date for employee leaves to cover up political work on state time in 2006.
Prosecutors may have received an important boost in their efforts when they obtained copies of a spreadsheet tracking volunteer work in the House Democratic campaigns of 2006. Much of the information relating to the 2006 campaigns and the subsequent pay bonuses had been erased from computers.
An earlier series of spreadsheets retrieved from House computers showed employees ranked in three categories, depending in part on their work with prior House political campaigns. All were recommended for various taxpayer funded pay bonuses for the 2004 and 2005 work years.
While sources connected with the investigation say the 2006 spreadsheets provide a clear pattern connecting political work with pay bonuses, linking the move of the House computers last summer to any larger conspiracy may be problematic.
Several persons connected with the probe -- including two thought to be targets of the grand jury -- say House officials had repeatedly asked the state's Department of General Services about relocating the computer. An earlier plan had suggested moving the server from the Capitol entirely.
Prosecutors now believe that the timing of the relocation last summer simply may have become an opportunity for someone to dispose of the leave slips.
Mr. Mosley did not respond to a reporter's request to call for comment.
The payroll bonus scandal erupted in early 2007 after revelations by the Harrisburg Patriot-News that House employees had been paid large bonuses. Later reporting by the Post-Gazette uncovered a correlation between state employees named in campaign reports and reimbursed for travel and field work and the list of those who received bonuses.
In August of last year, an ongoing investigation by the attorney general became public when a dozen boxes were seized from the House Democratic Office of Legislative Research on the first floor of the Irvis building. An affidavit for the seizure indicated that the boxes were slated for destruction, and a later court filing indicated that the boxes contained largely political materials unrelated to the duties of the research office.
In December, the Post-Gazette reported that a series of e-mails dating back to 2004 showed that a cadre of House Democratic aides used a spreadsheet to rank state employees according to their work on political campaigns and awarded them taxpayer funded pay bonuses according to that ranking.
Additionally, e-mails ob-tained by the paper show that volunteers were routinely recruited from the ranks of state employees, sometimes using the state computer network.
First Published May 11, 2008 12:00 am