The next time a state lawmaker claims to be safeguarding your tax dollars, remember Sue Cornell and Sam Stokes.
Cornell and Stokes are allegedly the latest in a long line of "ghost" employees paid with public money for doing nothing. Their stories are more evidence that some top elected leaders in Harrisburg consider taxpayers chumps.
Cornell offered some of the most infuriating testimony in the latest round of criminal indictments against legislators and top aides in the state capitol. She was a Republican state representative from Montgomery County who lost her bid for reelection in 2006. After her loss, Cornell asked then-Speaker John M. Perzel (R., Phila.) if he could find her another job. The grand jury report that led to the indictment of Perzel and others said his top aide put Cornell on the state payroll in the office of Rep. George Kenney (R., Phila.).
When Cornell asked Kenney what work she should do, he just laughed. Kenney, who was not charged, said he didn't know about the move beforehand and didn't approve of it. Cornell was paid $72,187, which she collected from Dec. 1, 2006, to Jan. 16, 2007.
"She did no work whatsoever for Kenney, and never even appeared at his office," the grand jury report said.
But Cornell was a ghost with a conscience, unlike many other slugs who linger on for years. She was uncomfortable in the do-nothing job. After six weeks, the GOP-controlled Philadelphia Parking Authority created a job for her. There, too, she had to push to find legitimate work.
Stokes is Perzel's brother-in-law, and served as his campaign manager. The grand jury report said Stokes was put on the state payroll in late 2000 because he needed health benefits.
He "applied" for his state position 13 days after he was hired. Over six years, taxpayers paid him a total of $196,808 in salary.
Ghost employment is an equal opportunity line of work. Indictments from 2008 allege that Mike Manzo, chief of staff for then-House Democratic leader Bill DeWeese (D., Greene), put a young beauty queen on the state payroll because Manzo was having a sexual relationship with her. She told investigators that most of the time she studied for school or did campaign work while drawing a state paycheck.
And former Democratic Rep. Frank LaGrotta of Lawrence County pleaded guilty in 2008 to hiring his sister and niece for "no-show" jobs. He got off easy, with probation and fines, in exchange for cooperating with Attorney General Tom Corbett's corruption probe.
Ghost employees in state government are not a new invention. Former Democratic State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo of Philadelphia was convicted in 1980 with others for putting ghost workers on the state payroll. His conviction was later overturned; Fumo was convicted again last March in the mother of all corruption trials.
The late State Sen. Henry J. "Buddy" Cianfrani, another Democratic power broker from Philadelphia, also served prison time for hiring ghost employees.
It's clear that the state Capitol has been haunted by bipartisan ghosts for decades, and the problem isn't getting any better. What's needed now is for voters to take part in a great, big exorcism.