More Bonusgate indictments could loom

Chris Amico Aug. 2, 2008, 12:02am

Tom Corbett (R)

HARRISBURG, Pa. (Legal Newsline)--More indictments could be coming in a legislative corruption probe that has so far snared both state representatives and staff working for the House Democratic Caucus, an official told Legal Newsline.

The investigation has now cost more than the amount of money allegedly misspent.

"We'll follow the evidence wherever it leads," Kevin Harley, a spokesman for Attorney General Tom Corbett, told Legal Newsline. He said there is "no time frame," even as costs mount.

Grand juries in Harrisburg and Pittsburgh alleged that members of the House Democratic Caucus paid about $1.7 million in contracts, salary and bonuses to staffers for campaign work.

Corbett announced 12 arrests in the ongoing investigation earlier this month, including one current representative and a former Democratic House minority whip.

Earlier this week, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that legal fees related to the investigation have exceeded $2 million, surpassing the amount of money spent on bonuses that triggered the original investigation.

But that's a small price to pay, said Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause in Pennsylvania.

"I think it's absolutely essential. You're only looking at the tip of the iceberg," Kauffman said. "If (taxpayers) spend $2 million now, that saves $2 billion in the coming years, they should be delighted with that."

Taxpayers are actually paying for both sides of the investigation, the Tribune-Review reported. Investigators from the attorney general's office questioned more than 100 House staffers, many of whom used lawyers being paid with public funds. Lawmakers and their staff can rely on state-paid legal defense up until the point of an indictment.

Harley, the attorney general's spokesman, declined to comment on the mounting cost. "We don't have anything to do with the legal bills that have been paid by the House," he said in a phone interview.

"Pennsylvania legislators tend to be slow learners when it comes to ethics issues, anyhow," Kauffman said. "They look at these things as hurdles to overcome, rather than lessons to be learned."

But he remains optimistic and expects more indictments to come, especially around Aug. 18, the last day a party can replace its candidate on the ballot before the next election.

"So far, in this particular case...the system seems to be working," Kauffman said. "Bad things happen. The bad guys are being ferreted out.

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