Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

House Speaker Smith tells jury he was unaware of illegal fund use

HARRISBURG - House Speaker Sam Smith, testifying in the political corruption case known as Computergate, today said he was unaware that taxpayer funds were used to illegally finance a computer database until sometime after the Attorney General launched its probe into legislative wrongdoing in the Capitol.

House Speaker Smith tells jury he was unaware of illegal fund use

HARRISBURG - House Speaker Sam Smith, testifying in the political corruption case known as Computergate, today said he was unaware that taxpayer funds were used to illegally finance a computer database until sometime after the Attorney General launched its probe into legislative wrongdoing in the Capitol.

Smith, a Republican from Jefferson County who has not been charged, said repeatedly that he relied on the House GOP legal team to vet all contracts before he signed them.

“The legal department reviewed all contracts,” said Smith, during nearly one hour on the witness stand in Dauphin County Court. “All of this was reviewed by lawyers, it’s legal, it’s been checked out, said Smith, who is not a lawyer.

When asked by reporters afterward whether, as House Majority leader at the time, he should have known what was going on, Smith said: “I do not feel I was negligent and I certainly don’t believe I was complicit.”

Ten Republicans, among them former Speaker John Perzel of Philadelphia, were charged with using more than $10 million in public funds to create a sophisticated computer database for constituents that was then used to help GOP candidates win elections.

Perzel and six others have pleaded guilty to various corruption charges and one defendant, Perzel aide John Zimmerman, will be tried separately later this year, leaving two defendants to stand trial: former House Appropriations Committee Chairman Brett Feece of Lycoming County and his former aide, Jill Seaman.

Smith, who appeared confident and composed on the stand, said as House Majority leader in 2004-2005 he signed off on contracts with a New Orleans-based company called GCR & Associates.

During the time the GOP caucus was using GCR’s services, he said, he was led to believe the data would be used to improve interaction between members and constituents.

“It was strictly legislative,” said Smith.

Under questioning by Seaman’s attorney Bill Fetteroff, Smith said in 2004 he expressed concern about the nature of the GCR contract and asked Perzel’s chief of staff Brian Preski - who also made a plea deal in the case - to explain the purpose of the contract.

Smith said that he only found out the data had been used for campaigning after then-Attorney General Tom Corbett launched his legislative corruption probe in 2007.

Smith appeared to contradict testimony from Perzel who on the stand last week said “everyone knew” that the computer data was being used for campaign purposes.

Records show GCR was paid a total of $9 million by House Republicans between 2003 and 2008.

When chief prosecutor Frank Fina asked Smith whether Feece ever told him who was paying for the contracts, he said he did not until “sometime post-investigation.”

It was only as the state investigation was unfolding, Smith said, that “he told me [the House Republican Campaign Committee] was not paying.”

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

 

 

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About this blog

Commonwealth Confidential gives you regularly updated coverage of the state legislature, the governor and the workings of the state bureaucracy. It is written by Angela Couloumbis and Amy Worden in the Inquirer's Harrisburg bureau, based right in the statehouse, and by the newspaper's far-flung campaign reporters.



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