Never one to shy away from a tough question, Perzel was silent as he shouldered his way through a throng of reporters to exit the courthouse under the glaring lights of TV cameras.
In a statement released soon after, he offered this apology:
"To the people of Pennsylvania; to the voters who put their trust in me for the 32 years that I had the privilege of serving the 172d District; and to my family and friends, I want to express my profound regret for my actions. You had a right to expect better from me, and I am sorry that I let you down."
In the statement, he stopped short of accepting full responsibility for the crimes prosecutors say were committed: "The truth is that as the legislative leader of my caucus, I oversaw the spending of millions of dollars in taxpayer funds, and I bear the responsibility for the improprieties that occurred in the spending of those dollars. It was up to me to see that taxpayer funds were spent only for the betterment of the people of Pennsylvania, and not for my political benefit of that of my party."
As part of his plea agreement, Perzel is expected to testify against the remaining defendants in the case, dubbed "Computergate" by the court. Four others are scheduled to be tried this month, including Brian Preski, Perzel's former chief of staff, and former State Rep. Brett Feese, a Republican from Lycoming County. A former aide to Perzel faces a separate trial this year.
But prosecutors from the state Attorney General's Office on Wednesday said Perzel's cooperation was not limited to his case. Their words, too, sparked water-cooler talk about who else the onetime top Republican might be able to implicate in a corruption probe that began four years ago and has morphed into a broader look at illegal use of state money and staff for political ends.
The speculation is not unwarranted. Perzel became House speaker in 2003 - before that, he was majority leader - and held that post until it was yanked away in 2007 when the chamber's Democrats got enough votes to oust him.
When he was in power, nary a deal went down without Perzel's involvement. From budget negotiations to deciding who got special grants delivered to their legislative districts or choosing who got campaign fund-raising dollars, Perzel was at the table.
"He was one of the most powerful speakers in modern Pennsylvania history," said political analyst and pollster G. Terry Madonna. "Under his leadership, the Republican caucus perfected a political arm that extensively recruited candidates, organized fund-raisers for them, and provided them with policy platforms. Under him, it reached its zenith."
Perzel's attorney, Brian J. McMonagle, declined to say anything yesterday about the terms of the plea agreement.
Frank Fina, chief deputy attorney general, put it this way: "Whenever you have a member of the state government who had such a position as Mr. Perzel . . . willing to cooperate with the commonwealth, that is significant." Fina would not elaborate.
The charges filed against Perzel in November 2009 included 82 counts. Prosecutors alleged he tapped more than $10 million in taxpayer dollars to develop sophisticated computer programs that were used to give him - and people he supported - an edge in campaigns.
From the start, Perzel declared his innocence, and it was widely expected that he would face a jury. But a combination of circumstances led him to change his mind in recent weeks, including family pressures and Lewis' reputation for handing down stiff sentences in political-corruption cases, said several people familiar with his decision.
Perzel's brother-in-law, Samuel "Buzz" Stokes, who had worked for him, pleaded guilty in the case last month, setting the stage for an uncomfortable courtroom confrontation.
There was also internal family pressure for Perzel's nephew Eric Ruth - who had been the House GOP's technology director - to cooperate with prosecutors in hope of avoiding jail time. Ruth, too, pleaded guilty Wednesday to one count each of conspiracy and conflict of interest.
Perzel's wife, Sheryl, has multiple sclerosis, and people familiar with his thinking said that, too, played heavily in his deciding not to endure a trial that was expected to last more than a month.
Lewis oversaw the original Bonusgate cases, in which 12 people affiliated with the House Democratic caucus were accused of using state money to dole out bonuses to staffers for political work. He sentenced former State Rep. Mike Veon, once the second-ranking House Democrat, to six to 14 years in prison. He sent Veon's aide, Brett Cott, to jail for 21 months to five years.
Perzel's sentencing is months away. With his plea, he forfeits future pension payments, prosecutors said, but he will not have to return what he has collected.
He took a lump-sum payout of just under $204,000 when he was unseated in last fall's election by Democratic State Rep. Kevin Boyle. That amount represented Perzel's contributions to the state retirement system, plus interest. He has also received annual pension checks worth $85,653.
John Perzel pleads guilty. See a video about the corruption case:
Contact staff writer Angela Couloumbis at 717-787-5934, firstname.lastname@example.org or @AngelasInk on Twitter.