Former House speaker among those charged with using tax money on computer software to aid campaigns.
MARK SCOLFORO Associated Press Writer
HARRISBURG — A former House speaker, an ex-lawmaker and eight aides Thursday became the latest — and the first Republicans — to be charged in a three-year-old investigation into the diversion of public resources and employees to legislative campaigns.
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Times Leader Photo StoreAttorney General Tom Corbett said that individuals within the House GOP caucus spent millions of taxpayer dollars on computer technology to gain an upper hand in campaigns, and that investigators can prove that some high-ranking officials and their employees tried to cover up their part.
The charges of theft, conspiracy, conflict of interest and obstruction of justice, and an accompanying 188-page grand jury report, were released Thursday, and the defendants were scheduled to turn themselves in today at a Dauphin County district judge’s office.
The most prominent defendant is state Rep. John M. Perzel, R-Philadelphia, who served as speaker for nearly four years and as majority leader for nearly a decade before that.
Corbett described Perzel as “aggressive in the acquisition and retention of power” and accused him of punishing fellow Republicans who voted against him on legislation with “dirty tricks” that included anonymous, taxpayer-paid robocalls to tarnish their image among voters in their districts.
Perzel has been among his party’s most prolific fund-raisers and key campaign strategists for more than a decade. He relinquished the speakership in 2007 after Democrats regained control of the House, and he is currently the ranking Republican on the Urban Affairs Committee.
Perzel insisted on his innocence and questioned the motives of Corbett — who is seeking the 2010 GOP gubernatorial nomination — in a written statement released through his lawyer.
“It smacks of political opportunism at the expense of my reputation, and I am going to fight very aggressively to prove my innocence,” Perzel said.
Also charged in the ongoing grand jury probe were Perzel’s former chief of staff, Philadelphia attorney Brian Preski; and Brett Feese, a Perzel ally and former state representative who resigned last week as the House GOP caucus’ chief counsel.
The grand jury calculated that the House Republican caucus spent more than $20 million between 2000 and 2007 to help its candidates prevail.
The other defendants are Perzel aides Paul Towhey and John Zimmerman, former Perzel aides Sam “Buzz” Stokes and Don McClintock, former Feese aides Al Bowman and Jill A. Seaman; and former House GOP technology office employee Eric Ruth. Zimmerman and Seaman, the only current caucus employees, were placed on unpaid leave Thursday, a spokesman said.