Asher, Dwyer: Guilty Verdicts 'Unbelievable'

Posted: December 19, 1986

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — State Treasurer R. Budd Dwyer and Robert B. Asher, one of the state's most powerful Republican leaders, appeared stunned yesterday by the jury verdict convicting them of conspiracy to accept bribes in connection with a state data-processing contract.

"I am declaring my disability to carry out my constitutional duty as the treasurer of Pennsylvania," Dwyer said, reading from a statement in the courtroom. He said he would turn control of the office over to a deputy.

"This is totally unbelievable. I'm totally innocent of all these charges. I don't know how this happened," Dwyer said as he left the federal courthouse.

Asher, 49, of Oreland, who has been on leave as chairman of the Montgomery County GOP, quickly bowed his head when the first count against him was announced at 5:40 p.m.

"I am very stunned," he said later, adding that he would resign from his political post today.

The charges stem from the Treasury Department's 1984 decision to award a $4.6 million no-bid contract to a California firm, Computer Technology Associates. Two CTA officials, John Torquato Jr. and William T. Smith, testified that they won the contract by offering a $300,000 payoff to Dwyer. Prosecutors said no money actually changed hands.

One juror, Carolyn Edwards of Williamsport, said it was difficult to convict Dwyer and Asher because they were men "of very high integrity . . . they just made a mistake."

Immediately after the verdicts, Dwyer, 47, was suspended from practicing law by senior U.S. District Judge Malcolm Muir, who presided at the trial.

Acting U.S. Attorney James West said the investigation would continue, with the focus remaining on public officials who may have accepted offers of bribes. He gave no timetable.

West said Dwyer and Asher were brought to trial "to deter other public officials" from similar behavior, which he called "a multimillion-dollar ripoff."

"The evidence that the FBI develops will be followed wherever it leads," West said. He declined to identify any public officials who remain under scrutiny.

During the trial, Smith testified that he offered money to state Attorney General LeRoy Zimmerman and state Sen. John J. Shumaker, R-Dauphin.

Smith said he offered Zimmerman a $150,000 campaign contribution during a telephone conversation about CTA's contract with the Treasury Department. The witness, a former chairman of the Dauphin County Republican Committee, also said he offered to split his legal fees from a CTA contract with Shumaker, an early supporter of the company's bid to win state jobs.

Zimmerman and Shumaker denied Smith's allegations.

Dwyer's lawyer, Paul Killion, said an appeal would be filed within a few days. He said Dwyer's decision to place a deputy, Donald L. Johnson, in charge of the department is temporary, pending the outcome of the appeal. Asher said he also would appeal.

Treasury spokesman Duke Horshock said officials have not determined if Dwyer will continue to draw his salary.

Although the state constitution requires convicted officials to resign, Gov. Thornburgh's legal staff believes Dwyer's conviction would not become official until he is sentenced, said Thornburgh aide David Runkel.

Judge Muir set Dwyer's sentencing for Jan. 23 and Asher's for Jan. 27. On Jan. 20, Democrat Robert P. Casey will be sworn in as governor and will have the power to nominate a replacement to fill Dwyer's unexpired term if necessary. The Republican-controlled Senate would have to confirm the nomination.

Thornburgh, in a brief, typewritten release, credited the prosecution for the convictions. He had urged Dwyer to step aside after the indictments were announced.

Meanwhile, state Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer, a Blair County Republican, said he was sorry for Asher and Dwyer but he does not expect the Republican Party to suffer.

"It's a tragic situation, (but) I don't see any effect on the party," he said. "It's not a party matter."

Asher was Thornburgh's choice to lead the state Republican Party. He took the post after chairing the governor's 1982 re-election campaign and resigned in January to let GOP gubernatorial nominee William W. Scranton name his own party leader.

The jury of eight women and four men found each defendant guilty of five counts of mail fraud, four counts of interstate transportation in aid of racketeering, one count of perjury and one count of conspiracy to commit bribery.

Each of the 11 counts carries a maximum five-year prison term. The men were released on $100,000 recognizance bond.

The jury began deliberations Monday afternoon, after hearing 14 days of testimony from 31 witnesses.

Dwyer and Asher were indicted in May by a federal grand jury in Harrisburg. The indictment alleged that Dwyer was to receive a $300,000 kickback. Asher allegedly learned of the planned kickback for Dwyer and tried to divert it to the Republican State Committee as a campaign contribution.

Torquato and Smith testified as part of plea agreements with the government. Torquato pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and was sentenced by Muir to four years in prison. His sentence was later reduced to 22 months and will end next month.

Smith, now hospitalized in Harrisburg, was sentenced to 12 years following his 1985 conviction. He has not yet started to serve his time, but the U.S. Supreme Court turned down his appeal Monday.

As part of Smith's agreement to testify, West said he would recommend that

Muir reduce his term. The government also agreed not to indict Smith's wife, Judy, and offered him immunity from perjury charges.

The immunity provision allowed Smith to admit that he lied under oath during his trial, when he said he didn't offer payoffs to anyone. Torquato testified against Smith at the first trial.

The allegations against Dwyer first surfaced in July 1984, when he was running for re-election.

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