DeWeese convicted of theft, but vows to stay

State Rep. Bill DeWeese maintained his innocence Monday even after a jury convicted him on five of six corruption counts.
State Rep. Bill DeWeese maintained his innocence Monday even after a jury convicted him on five of six corruption counts. (BRADLEY C. BOWER / AP)
Posted: February 06, 2012

HARRISBURG - Even after the guilty verdicts, State Rep. Bill DeWeese was defiant.

After a jury convicted him Monday of theft, conspiracy, and other charges, the former House Democratic leader professed his innocence, said he would not give up his seat just yet, and vowed to keep seeking reelection.

Another once-powerful Democrat, Rep. Dwight Evans of Philadelphia, said DeWeese was "an embarrassment to the House" and should resign. DeWeese not only vowed to stay - he asked current House Democratic leaders to put him on the ceremonial committee that escorts Gov. Corbett to the dais Tuesday for the governor's annual budget address.

"I certainly feel I did nothing wrong," DeWeese told reporters moments after the Dauphin County jury of seven women and five men delivered guilty verdicts on five of six charges brought by the state Attorney General's Office. The jurors acquitted him of one theft charge.

The Marine Corps veteran-turned-legislator also said he believed a jury from his southwestern Pennsylvania district would have acquitted him of all charges, and said he hoped that district would reelect him later this year. It is why he intends to keep showing up for work in the Capitol, he said, including for Corbett's scheduled budget speech.

For months, he has contended Corbett used him to rise to the governorship. Corbett was attorney general when that office charged DeWeese in 2009.

"I am still a member of the General Assembly," he said before stepping into an elevator with his defense attorney, Bill Costopoulos. A short time later, true to his word, DeWeese was back on the floor of the House.

For his part, Costopoulos called the jury's verdict a disappointment, but he added that he would have appellate courts "review everything."

"I am very saddened for Mr. DeWeese because I believed in the position we set forth," Costopoulos said. "I think the legislature has been under assault for years, and this mayhem has got to come to a stop."

The case against DeWeese grew out of the so-called Bonusgate investigation, prompted by news reports that House Democratic aides were getting state bonuses for political work. Prosecutors said DeWeese directed, and in some cases even forced, legislative staffers to do campaign work while on the taxpayer time and dime.

In all, 25 defendants have been swept up in Bonusgate and its related cases. They include former legislators and staffers from both parties. Six, including DeWeese, have been convicted; two were acquitted; 15 have pleaded guilty; one the charges were dropped against him; and one defendant, former Democratic State Rep. Steve Stetler of York County - who later served as state revenue secretary - is to be tried later this year.

DeWeese is the only sitting legislator to be convicted on charges arising from the long-running and multifaceted probe.

Senior Deputy Attorney General Ken Brown, who tried the case together with Senior Deputy Attorney General Michael A. Sprow, said the jury followed the evidence and found DeWeese to be "what the commonwealth said he was . . . a common criminal."

Given the conviction, DeWeese, who draws an annual salary of $82,000, will lose his state pension, Brown said.

As for keeping his seat, Brown said, DeWeese is now a convicted felon and, upon sentencing, will no longer be allowed to serve in the House.

"If he wants to spit in the face of the jury's verdict, I guess that's his prerogative," Brown said.

Under sentencing guidelines, DeWeese could face nine to 16 months on each count, Brown said. The ultimate decision will rest with Dauphin County President Judge Todd A. Hoover, who scheduled DeWeese's sentencing for April 24.

In general, legislators who are convicted of felonies can be removed from their posts once they are sentenced - that is, if they do not resign ahead of time. That would require a two-thirds vote by the House. DeWeese signaled Monday evening that he would stay on until sentencing and would not withdraw his name from the ballot after that.

Evans, a former ally of DeWeese's in the House, said "the jury has spoken" and DeWeese should step down. "He should resign," Evans said. "Enough is enough."

House Democratic leader Frank Dermody (D., Allegheny) said he was saddened about the news of his friend of 20 years and someone he believed had been a strong voice for working Pennsylvanians.

"You don't want to see this happen to anybody," he said. "I feel badly for Bill's family, but the jury listened to the facts and made a decision."

When the first guilty verdict was read, DeWeese looked silently down at the defense table, while his girlfriend cried out and his sister wept quietly.

During the trial, DeWeese testified that he did not learn that his aides were doing political work during work hours until after the Bonusgate investigation began, in early 2007. He also said that when he was House Democratic leader, he delegated many responsibilities and trusted his subordinates to do right.

Heidi Layton, one of the jurors, said the one thing DeWeese could not explain away was the hiring of legislative aide Kevin Sidella. During the trial, prosecutors presented DeWeese's early testimony to a grand jury - in which DeWeese acknowledged having hired Sidella to be his political fund-raiser.

"Kevin Sidella pretty much blew the whistle on Bill DeWeese," Layton, 38, a nursing student, said Monday night in an interview.

She said the reality of Sidella's being paid by taxpayers to do DeWeese's political work was the one bit of hard evidence that jurors could not overlook.

As for DeWeese, she said she and fellow jurors listened carefully as Costopoulos called witness after witness to attest to his character.

"I believe that he is a good person," she said. "But even good people make mistakes. And unfortunately, this was with other people's money, so it wasn't taken lightly."


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

Inquirer staff writer Amy Worden contributed to this article.

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