Prosecutors throw DeWeese's words in his face at corruption hearing

Bill DeWeese's staff did campaign work on state time.
Bill DeWeese's staff did campaign work on state time.
Posted: July 27, 2010

HARRISBURG - "Yes," Rep. Bill DeWeese told a grand jury last December, he knew that one of his top government aides was doing political fund-raising work at his desk during work hours.

Yes, DeWeese told the grand jurors, he was aware that some staffers in his district office in Greene County were being "recruited, directed, and cajoled" to do campaign work.

And yes, the onetime top House Democrat acknowledged, it was not unusual for staffers to do campaign work on state time.

"Looking back, it was wrong," DeWeese testified before the grand jury that winter day. "We shouldn't have done it. But it was part of the political culture on Capitol Hill."

Prosecutors used those words during a preliminary hearing Monday to show that DeWeese, facing Bonusgate-related charges of using legislative staff as his taxpayer-funded campaign team, knew his employees were doing political work on state time.

"This speaks to a hubris," argued Senior Deputy Attorney General Ken Brown, "that this defendant thought he was above the law, that it was OK to take taxpayer money and put it in his own pocket."

After the hearing, DeWeese, 60, stood before reporters and said prosecutors had left out a critical part of his testimony.

He said he repeatedly told the Attorney General's Office that he always directed his staff to use personal, vacation, or compensatory time when doing political work to ensure that politics and government were kept separate.

"I tried to tell people to be appropriate in their behavior," DeWeese said he told prosecutors. "That is why I feel solid in my circumstances. . . . I am so confident that we will have witness after witness after witness who heard me say, again and again and again, 'Please make sure you're on comp time, make sure you're on a vacation day.' "

"I am innocent," he said.

It was a dramatic end to an otherwise routine preliminary hearing, during which Harrisburg District Judge William Wenner determined that the Attorney General's Office had presented enough evidence for the case to proceed to trial.

Presenting portions of DeWeese's grand jury testimony was a surprise mid-day move by prosecutors. Even DeWeese's attorney, Bill Costopoulos, said he was blindsided.

Costopoulos argued that the Attorney General's Office was selectively citing portions of DeWeese's testimony, and demanded that the case be dismissed.

He later told reporters that Attorney General Tom Corbett's case against DeWeese "isn't Bonusgate . . . it's Petty-gate."

"Bill DeWeese did not line his pockets with one dime. He did not steal any money," Costopoulos said.

Earlier in the day, prosecutors presented three witnesses to buttress their charges that DeWeese not only knew his employees engaged in campaign work, but expected them to do so - and that he grew irate, even vindictive, when they did not perform the campaign tasks to his satisfaction.

DeWeese staffer Sheilah Novasky said the Democrat called her in a rage the day after the 2006 primary election because one of his district office employees had left a polling station unmanned for a short time.

DeWeese, Novasky testified, bellowed and demanded that the employee, Susan Stoy, be fired.

Novasky said she eventually persuaded DeWeese to allow her to offer Stoy, a single mother, another government job. Stoy found a job with the state lottery.

"Sometimes, he had a temper," Novasky testified of DeWeese, but clarified that his anger often passed quickly.

Another DeWeese aide testified that DeWeese wanted to fire another of his longtime aides, Sharon Rodavich, because she put up too few campaign lawn signs one election year. Rodavich was charged along with DeWeese last year with using legislative staff for campaigns. She waived her preliminary hearing Monday.

On cross-examination, Novasky acknowledged that, historically, campaigning and legislative work frequently "mixed" and that DeWeese tried to do the right thing.

"I think [DeWeese] is as much a victim of the system as I am," she said.

Another former top aide, Kevin Sidella, testified that he spent the majority of his time doing fund-raising when he worked for DeWeese between 2001 and 2007. That work included lining up donors and preparing the Greene County Democrat to talk to them.

Sidella said that for most of that time, DeWeese either did not know or did not appear to care whether he did the work on state time.

But after 2005, when the legislature sparked a public outcry by voting for a legislative pay raise, he suddenly became concerned "about who was listening," had his office swept for listening devices, and would ask his employees to take comp time for any political work they did.

Sidella said that at one point early in his employment, he asked DeWeese whether it was acceptable to do campaign work on government time.

DeWeese, Sidella said, took a deep breath and said: "Our saving grace is that everybody does it."


Contact staff writer Angela Couloumbis at 717-787-5934 or acouloumbis@phillynews.com.

|
|
|
|
|