A former power broker in the Pennsylvania Legislature and two of his one-time aides were convicted of political corruption charges Monday by a jury that also acquitted them of dozens of charges and exonerated a fourth defendant.
The defendants are among 25 people arrested since the state attorney general's office began investigating three years ago with the news that millions of dollars in bonuses had been quietly handed out to legislative employees.
Former House Democratic Whip Mike Veon, 53, was found guilty of 14 offenses related to using taxpayer-paid bonuses to reward state workers for campaign efforts, illegal campaign fundraising, other campaign efforts and a single count of conflict-of-interest for having aides drive two motorcycles to a North Dakota rally. He had faced the most counts, 59.
Veon attorney Dan Raynak vowed an appeal.
"This is far from over," Raynak said. "We believe there were many errors made during the trial, and we certainly anticipate and hope that this verdict does not stand."
Brett Cott, 37, who managed Veon's failed 2006 re-election effort, was found guilty of three of the 42 counts he faced. Annamarie Perretta-Rosepink, 47, who ran Veon's Beaver Falls district office, was found guilty of five counts. The convictions against Cott and Perretta-Rosepink related to campaign efforts from 2004 to 2006.
Chief Deputy Attorney General Frank Fina, the lead prosecutor, said Veon was proven to have stolen more than $1 million in the form of bonuses.
"We hope it sends a strong message to the rest of our elected officials ... to stop using the people's money for their own benefit," Fina said.
All three defendants had been charged with multiple counts of conflict-of-interest, theft and conspiracy. All were convicted of at least one count of each charge.
Steve Keefer, the former House Democratic information technology supervisor and Veon's '06 campaign treasurer, was acquitted of all 16 counts against him. He broke into tears as the foreman read the final "not guilty" verdict and embraced his lawyer, Bill Fetterhoff.
"I'm just looking forward to getting back to being a father and a family man again, getting on with life," Keefer told reporters.
The verdict came after nearly six weeks of testimony by dozens of witnesses -- many of whom had been given immunity or had struck deals with the prosecution -- and about 59 hours of deliberations over seven days. Jurors sent word through court officials afterward that they did not wish to speak with reporters.
Prosecutors had accused the defendants of being at the center of a range of illegal efforts to use tax dollars and state employees to gain leverage in running political campaigns.
The trial took place in a courtroom just three blocks from the ornate Capitol building, where prosecutors said many of the crimes occurred -- and where many of the witnesses still work.
Defense lawyers had attacked the credibility of the prosecution witnesses, noting that many were provided plea deals and grants of immunity in exchange for their testimony. They argued that the evidence against their clients was weak and contended that some of the accusations didn't rise to the level of criminal behavior.
The jury agreed, at least in part, acquitting Veon of all counts against him that related to research into political opponents, and to the state-funded dinners after a regular Tuesday night basketball game he hosted. They also acquitted him, Cott and Perretta-Rosepink of charges involving successful petition challenges against presidential candidate Ralph Nader in 2004 and U.S. Senate candidate Carl Romanelli in 2006.
Veon, who as whip was the second-ranking House Democratic leader, had been a key negotiator in many of the General Assembly's biggest deals. He cast the lone vote against repealing the 2005 legislative pay raise bill, a decision that might have cost him the 2006 election.
As part of their case against him and the others, prosecutors presented evidence that state workers canvassed door to door, manned phone banks, raised campaign donations, shipped out bulk mailings, collected nominating petition signatures and researched the backgrounds of political opponents to find their vulnerabilities.
Legislative employees testified that those duties were often performed during regular work hours without taking leave -- sometimes getting taxpayers to reimburse their travel expenses -- and prosecutors argued that much of it directly benefited Veon in his role as a leading campaign strategist for the House Democrats.
The case was fought bitterly, with lawyers on both sides angrily accusing the others of ethical misconduct, hundreds of objections and impassioned debate over even minute details.
Sentencing was scheduled for May 21, and all four defendants remained free on bail. Veon and Perretta-Rosepink still face charges in a related case that pertained to the Beaver Initiative for Growth, a nonprofit organization he founded and headed up.
The verdict has implications for the 2010 gubernatorial race, in which Attorney General Tom Corbett is a candidate for the Republican nomination.
When asked what went through his mind as the first guilty verdict against him was read, Cott referred to Corbett's political ambitions.
"That's it? That's the best he can do? I hope this helps him get elected governor," Cott said. "Good for him."
Corbett has made Harrisburg reform a key element of his campaign, but in the only other case to go to trial as a result of the investigation, former state Rep. Sean Ramaley, D-Beaver, was acquitted of all charges in December.
Ramaley, Veon and the other three defendants were among 12 people with ties to the House Democratic caucus who were arrested together in July 2008. The other seven pleaded guilty to related charges in January, and several testified for the prosecution.
Similar charges are currently pending against Rep. Bill DeWeese, D-Greene, who was Democratic floor leader when Veon was his second-in-command; DeWeese district office aide Sharon Rodavich; and former state Rep. Steve Stetler, D-York, who headed up the caucus' campaign efforts before leaving the Legislature.
More recently, Stetler served as revenue secretary under Gov. Ed Rendell, but he resigned hours before he was charged criminally.
Also awaiting a preliminary hearing are 10 people with ties to the House Republican caucus, including Rep. John Perzel, of Philadelphia, and former Rep. Brett Feese, of Lycoming County.