Lawmaker Testifies For Ex-aide To Saidel Diana Roca Is Accused Of Looting The Controller's Campaign Fund. U.s. Rep. Robert Brady Defended Her.

Posted: September 03, 1999

If one thing has come out in the criminal case against Diana Roca, the former girlfriend and campaign treasurer of City Controller Jonathan Saidel, it's that she has powerful friends.

Mayor Rendell took the stand on Roca's behalf in July. Yesterday, it was U.S. Rep. Robert Brady's turn.

Brady (D., Phila.) testified in Common Pleas Court to counter charges that Roca stole $36,000 from the controller's campaign fund and used part of it to buy an expensive new house.

Brady's defense tracked that of the mayor, who made a rare court appearance to portray Roca as a diligent, tireless campaign worker who earned her money.

The point of such testimony is open to debate. State Attorney General Mike Fisher's office, which is prosecuting the case, says it has never claimed that Roca loafed or wasn't entitled to a paycheck.

But Roca's defense team may be making another point: If two of the city's most prominent public officials - veterans of numerous citywide campaigns who worked to reelect Saidel - see nothing wrong with what Roca did, that's a strong validation of her conduct.

"She was the go-to person in the campaign," testified Brady, who also chairs the Democratic City Committee and is a longtime political ally of Saidel.

Roca was being paid at a rate of $58,000 a year, taking into account the $36,000 lump-sum payment in January 1997. Brady said her compensation was not high. He testified that his campaign managers make as much as $73,000 a year, including expenses.

He described Roca as "tenacious, effective and conscientious." Asked by her lawyer, Walter Cohen, if she deserved the $58,000, Brady said yes.

The court session yesterday was a continuation of a preliminary hearing before Judge Joseph Papalini. Brady was the lone witness. The hearing ended with closing arguments by lawyers for both sides.

Papalini is expected to rule by the end of the year whether to throw out the case or let it go to trial. Even if Roca is convicted of the most serious felony charges, she would not likely go to jail under sentencing guidelines, according to a person close to the prosecution.

Roca was arrested last year on charges of theft, perjury and conspiracy stemming from her efforts to reelect Saidel in 1997.

The allegations center on the payment she received while serving as Saidel's treasurer and campaign manager. She was also his girlfriend at the time. In an April 1997 campaign finance report, Roca recorded the payment to herself as a $23,000 consulting fee, even though the actual amount was $36,000, according to the grand jury investigating the case. She used some for a down payment on a $270,000 house in the city's Fox Chase section, according to the grand jury.

After the payment was made public, Roca resigned from the campaign and gave the money back. She and Saidel ended their relationship.

Saidel was named a co-conspirator in the case, although he was never charged with a crime. The grand jury said the two conspired together to make false statements in campaign finance reports filed with the state in 1995 and 1997.

The lawyer for the Attorney General's Office, Patrick Blessington, said that the frequent changes in Roca's story point to her guilt. He cited a private meeting she had with another campaign aide in May 1997 after the payment had become public. At that meeting, Roca described the unreported $13,000 portion as a "loan."

Now, her defenders call the entire $36,000 a "bonus" for years of hard campaign work.

Asked why Roca would return a well-deserved bonus, Cohen said: "She just wanted to get out of this whole situation and get on with her life and stop being involved in political campaigns because of the charges against you."

Blessington was not persuaded.

"She couldn't keep her story straight," the prosecutor said. "All those variations in her reporting are actually evidence that she's engaging in deceit to cover up her actions, and it's all consciousness of guilt."

The pattern of behavior points to a crime, Blessington said. Roca was earning a campaign salary of about $22,000 by the end of 1996. Then in January 1997, he said, she wrote herself a check for $36,000 and used most of it for the down payment.

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