Scandal touches 3 other Demos - LancasterOnline: News

Scandal touches 3 other Demos

Grand jury report says Paul Resch, Darlene Zerbe and Jonathan Price, who were not indicted, worked on state time to get Nader kicked off 2004 ballot.

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Posted: Sunday, July 13, 2008 12:21 am | Updated: 6:11 pm, Wed Sep 11, 2013.

By Tom Corbett's account, if he were a painter, he'd be the guy cutting in around the windows and woodwork.

He wouldn't be wielding a roller on the walls.

"A prosecutor can't paint with a broad brush," the state attorney general told members of Lancaster County ACTION on Saturday, July 12. "We have to paint with a very narrow brush."

He used the analogy to explain why, in the first salvo of the Bonusgate investigation that has rocked Harrisburg, only members and employees of the House Democratic Caucus were named.

Two former Lancaster County Democratic leaders - Scott and Jennifer Brubaker - were charged; three other county Democrats - Paul Resch, Darlene Zerbe and Jonathan Price - were listed among those who did political work for the caucus. No charges were filed against those three.

On Wednesday, July 9, Corbett's office announced that charges had been filed against 12 Democrats in what's called the "first phase" of the investigation into allegations that state employees used public time and equipment, and got taxpayer-funded bonuses, for political work.

The Harrisburg Patriot-News previously reported that all four legislative caucuses paid nearly $4 million in bonuses to state employees over the last few years. The grand jury investigating the allegations, dubbed Bonusgate, found that House Democrats paid the most - $1.2 million in bonuses for campaign activities from 2004 to 2006.

But, the grand jury said in a presentment, the bonuses were "but a single facet of the concerted effort to employ taxpayer funds and resources for campaign purposes." Just as serious, the grand jury said, was the diversion of public employees' time to campaigns and other political work.

County Democratic chairman Bruce Beardsley suggested the blame needs to be shifted upward.

"I believe putting staffers in jail for the excesses of their bosses is a miscarriage of justice," he said.

High-powered defendant

Among those who were charged last week, the biggest names were those of former House Democratic Whip Mike Veon, of Beaver County, and current Rep. Sean Ramaley, D-Beaver County. They are accused of theft, violating conflict of interest laws and conspiracy.

And among the remaining 10 defendants are former Lancaster County residents Scott and Jennifer Brubaker, the chairman and secretary, respectively, of the county Democratic Party from 1998 to 2002.

The Brubakers - Scott was the administrative director of the House caucus before being forced out of his job by Majority Leader Bill DeWeese last year, and Jennifer is suspended without pay from her job as director of the Democrats' Legislative Research Office - also face theft, conflict of interest and conspiracy charges. They now live in Camp Hill.

Three other county Democrats who worked for the House caucus also are listed in the 75-page grand jury presentment as having done campaign work involving public resources.

According to the grand jury, Paul Resch, of Columbia, Darlene Zerbe, of Lancaster and Jonathan Price, of Clay Township, were among at least 36 caucus employees who worked to challenge independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader's nominating petitions in 2004. The three local Democrats were not charged.

Democratic challenges resulted in Nader being knocked off the ballot, giving Democratic nominee John Kerry a better chance at winning the state that year. The grand jury report says none of the supervisors of a "veritable army of caucus staffers" ever asked the workers to take unpaid leave, and that the bulk of the research was done in the Capitol complex and in Veon's Beaver Falls district office.

The grand jury said Resch and Zerbe received unspecified bonuses for the Nader work; Price did not. Elsewhere in the report, the grand jury says Price, a Clay Township supervisor, was one of about 17 caucus employees assigned to work against state Senate candidate Mike Diven, a "thorn in the side" of Veon, in a 2005 special election in Allegheny County.

"Most of them used comp time to be away from their legislative desks," the presentment said. The grand jury noted in the report that some caucus employees were allowed to rack up compensatory time in their state jobs so they could take leave to work on campaigns.

Price is listed in the presentment as one of the "Rockstar" caucus staffers. In a ranking system created to determine which employees qualified for campaign-related bonuses, "rockstars" were those who did the most and best political work.

Price, who had been an adviser to DeWeese, and Resch, a former Columbia Borough councilman who is acting director of gaming operations for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, could not be reached for comment Saturday. Zerbe, contacted at home, declined to comment.

Beardsley, who succeeded Brubaker, said he and his fellow Democrats were saddened by the charges against the Brubakers.

"In my personal and political dealings with them, Scott and Jen were among the finest and most decent people I have known," Beardsley said. "They worked in a highly politicized Harrisburg environment that had become toxic. They were not policymakers. They followed orders.

"The institutions themselves, among both parties, where a few elected legislative leaders control substantial amounts of taxpayer monies, without any oversight or sunshine, breed corruption."

Party questions

Corbett has been criticized since the Bonusgate announcement because no Republicans are named. Corbett, a Republican, is running for a second term on Nov. 4 against Democrat John Morganelli, the Northampton County district attorney.

As Beardsley said, "It is hard to understand why he chose to announce these all-Democratic indictments now, instead of announcing a bipartisan list. I certainly hope he's not playing politics with people's lives."

But Corbett, who was in town Saturday on a campaign swing that also included a stop at Central Market, told about 55 guests at the ACTION breakfast at Leola Restaurant that he'll pursue anyone, as long as there's sufficient evidence to make a case.

To those who say "They all do it," Corbett replied, "Give me the evidence."

He emphasized, though, that the investigation isn't over and that all four legislative caucuses are involved.

"Crime does not have an 'R' or a 'D' behind it," Corbett told the ACTION supporters.

In a press release, Corbett's office noted his successful prosecution of former Rep. Jeff Habay, a Republican, for using his state office and staff for political work.

After breakfast, Corbett said the House Democratic Caucus was probed first because his office uncovered information that "documents were being destroyed."

"We obtained and executed a search warrant to protect that," he said.

Last year, agents seized 20 boxes of documents from the Democratic Legislative Research Office.

"When somebody is destroying documents," Corbett said, "it certainly gets the attention of a prosecutor."

Corbett also was criticized Friday by attorneys for some of the defendants because their clients were handcuffed for arraignment in Harrisburg.

A press photo of the powerful Veon, with his hands cuffed behind his back, was said to have transfixed the capital's political world.

Corbett said it's standard procedure to handcuff defendants charged with serious crimes. Those who were charged were supposed to report Friday to the attorney general's office in Lemoyne for processing, he said, and at that point, "they're in custody."

But some defense attorneys, he said, took their clients directly to the magisterial district justice's office, so not all the defendants were handcuffed.

All the defendants were released on bail or on their own recognizance, according to press reports.

"Should I treat them any differently than anybody else?" Corbett asked rhetorically about those who were manacled.

"If I did it any differently, I'd be discriminating."


Helen Colwell Adams is a Sunday News staff writer. E-mail her at hcolwell@lnpnews.com, or phone 291-4962.

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