Capitol corruption probe updates: prison assignments and the latest trial

As former lawmakers and as top GOP and Democratic staffers head to their permanent prison assignments in one case, a separate case, involving a Democratic leader and former Rendell cabinet official, wraps up its first week of testimony in Harrisburg.

Last week we reported that former House Speaker John Perzel was sent to SCI Laurel Highlands, the prison that houses the state's aged and infirmed inmates, in Somerset, about 230 miles west of his home in Philadelphia.

(It is the same prison housing former Democratic Whip Mike Veon convicted as part of a related legislative corruption probe.) 

Now we have word that his former chief of staff Brian Preski, has been sent to SCI Mercer at the far western edge of the state - 350 miles from his Philadelphia home.

Asked why Preski was sent clear across the state, a corrections official explained that inmates are assigned on the basis of space available and treatment required. 

As for getting assigned to a prison closer to home, spokeswoman Sue Bensinger said, "You can make the request, it doesn't mean it will be granted."

Preski, a former assistant district attorney in Philadelphia, is serving 2 to 4 years in prison for aiding Perzel with his multi-million scheme that used public funds to build a sophisticated computer system to help GOP candidates win elections.

Mike Manzo, former chief of staff to House Democratic leader Bill DeWeese, also was sent to SCI Mercer. Manzo, most lived in Harrisburg, pleaded guilty in a related probe that led to the conviction of his former boss on corruption charges. DeWeese is temporarily being housed at SCI Camp Hill, outside of Harrisburg. Officials say he has not yet been given a permanent assignment for his 2 1/2 to 5 year sentence. 

We also learned that former House Appropriations Committee chairman Brett Feese will serve his 4-to 12-year prison sentence at SCI Waymart, which is about 100 miles from his former Lycoming County legislative district in Muncy.

Feese, a Republican, was found guilty last year on 40 counts, that included theft and conspiracy, for his role in the same "Computergate" scandal that netted Perzel and Preski. 

Meanwhile, in Harrisburg, the trial of one of the former Democratic House leaders charged as part of then Attorney General Tom Corbett's legisltive corruption probe, got underway this week with four days of testimony.

Former House Rep. Stephen Stetler, 62, once the chairman of the House Democratic Campaign Committee, took the stand in his own defense Thursday, telling a Dauphin County jury he did not know that an ex-aide had performed campaign work on tax-payer funded time.

Stetler was disputing testimony from a former legislative aide who said the lawmaker was out of the Harrisburg office for weeks at a time working on various election campaigns, according to the Associated Press.

 The aide, John Paul Jones, said he falsified comp-time slips and the office manager helped in the cover-up. Several other prosecution witnesses also testified that they openly did campaign work in Stetler’s office.

Stetler called Jones’ allegations “outrageous” and testified that he told all his employees “face to face” to keep campaign activity separate from their legislative responsibilities, the AP reported.

Stetler has pleaded not guilty to four counts of theft and one count each of conspiracy and conflict of interest. The trial is scheduled to resume Monday.

Stetler also served for a year as state revenue secretary in then-Gov. Ed Rendell’s administration. He resigned in 2009, shortly before the corruption charges against him were announced.

Stetler is the last of 25 people charged in a wide-ranging investigation by the state attorney general’s office to stand trial. No new charges have been filed since 2009, but officials say the investigation remains open.

In all 12 Democrats and nine Republicans have been convicted or pleaded guilty. Two defendants were acquitted, and charges against a third were dropped.



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