Is there any chance taxpayers could get their money back?

Ten million dollars. That’s the amount Attorney General Tom Corbett says state Rep. John Perzel and his associates took in taxpayer money to fund political activities.

We got to wondering: if Perzel and the other defendants are found guilty, will taxpayers be able to get that money -- our money -- back?

20091114_inq_pe1bonus14z-a

The restitution process in a case like this would work the same way as it did in Vince Fumo's trial, according to Edward Ohlbaum, director of trial advocacy and clinical legal education at Temple Law School.

In the sentencing phase, the trial judge would probably "ask for … paperwork and documentary evidence so that he can calculate or determine what the loss was to taxpayers,” Ohlbaum explains. Both prosecutors and defendants would submit competing estimates of the damages, and the judge would decide on a number based on those calculations.

In Fumo’s case, prosecutors asked for more than $3.5 million in restitution to the state Senate and city nonprofits. In the end, Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter decided Fumo owed taxpayers about $2 million.

So there is an opportunity for redress here. But even if the defendants are found guilty, Pennsylvanians won't get their money back if the defendants simply don't have it.

“You can’t get blood from a rock,” Ohlbaum says, though he adds that the court could order the sale of defendants’ property or order that they turn over a portion of their future earnings. In his state Rep. job, Perzel made about $73,000 a year.

As for any corruption of democracy that might have happened here -- well, there's no undoing that.

Review city services on our sister site, City Howl.