Perzel's new home is Laurel Highlands prison

John M. Perzel is in same prison as ex-Rep. Mike Veon.
John M. Perzel is in same prison as ex-Rep. Mike Veon.
Posted: June 17, 2012

HARRISBURG — Former State House Speaker John M. Perzel has a new address, at least for the next 2½ to 5 years: State Correctional Institution, Laurel Highlands.

The once-powerful Philadelphia Republican was assigned to the minimum-security prison in Somerset, in southwestern Pennsylvania, on June 7, three months after pleading guilty to political corruption charges.

Laurel Highlands is known as Pennsylvania's prison for the aged and infirm. About 20 percent of its 1,400 inmates are either elderly or suffering from a medical disability, a prison spokeswoman said.

It is also becoming known as the place where the Capitol felons are sent to do their time. Call it Bonusgate Row.

Perzel joins former House Democratic Whip Mike Veon, who is serving a 5- to 14-year sentence for using public funds to pay campaign workers. The two were among 25 people, including legislators and aides, charged in the Bonusgate and Computergate probes, launched in 2007 by then-Attorney General Tom Corbett.

In 2004, former Bucks County lawmaker Tom Druce was sent to Laurel Highlands, where he spent two years after being convicted in an insurance-fraud scheme connected to the hit-and-run death of a Harrisburg man.

Corrections spokeswoman Sue McNaughton said Perzel was sent to Laurel Highlands based on his crime and the security level needed, and not because of his former position of prominence in government.

Perzel, 62, is living in dormitory-style housing with as many as eight other men. He was assigned to the prison's general labor crew, which does handyman work, such as mowing lawns, for a starting salary of 19 cents an hour. Perzel does not live in Veon's unit, but the two might run into each other in the recreation yard or library, said prison spokeswoman Betsy Nightingale.

While undergoing evaluation, Perzel shared a cell with another former House speaker, Democrat Bill DeWeese, at Camp Hill prison near Harrisburg. DeWeese, convicted in May in a related corruption probe, has not yet been given his permanent housing assignment, McNaughton said.

Contact Amy Worden at 717-783-2584 or aworden@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @inkyamy.

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