Jumping off before the trainwreck:
PA State Police Commissioner Jeffrey Miller resigns 7-8-08
U.S. Attorney Patrick Meehan resigns 7-7-08
Grand jury indicts PA Majority Leader DeWeese and others
Gov. Ed Rendell investigated for alleged corrupt practices
Prosecutors grill Rendell's state police driver
by Bill Keisling
Majority leader Bill DeWeese (top) and former whip Mike Veon
Posted July 2, 2008 -- A grand jury in Pennsylvania has reportedly indicted state Rep. Bill DeWeese, the Majority Leader of the Pennsylvania General Assembly.
DeWeese is the highest-ranking Democrat in the Pennsylvania legislature.
Also reportedly indicted are DeWeese's former lieutenant and majority whip, Mike Veon, and several others.
Majority Leader DeWeese's reported indictment, on the surface, could involve any of several long-simmering scandals, including bonuses paid to legislative staffers who allegedly performed political work.
But what began as an investigation into legislative bonuses and other hijinks has blossomed into a wide-ranging grand jury inquiry into corrupt practices throughout Pennsylvania state government.
Gov. Ed Rendell and staff members are also under investigation.
A friend in Pennsylvania
Prosecutors in the last several weeks have grilled Gov. Rendell's state police driver about the governor's associations and whereabouts, and other matters.
Federal and state investigators are examining, among other issues, Gov. Rendell's alleged dealings with organized crime figures, his administration's awarding of contracts, and contributions to the governor.
"The problem is Rendell has a lot of immunity," one observer says.
More importantly, there are also significant bi-partisan obstacles to investigating Ed Rendell.
In 2006 the newly created Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board awarded a casino license to Louis DeNaples, a convicted felon who has long been publicly accused of associations with organized crime figures. DeNaples and his Catholic priest, Joseph Sica, are currently under indictment for allegedly lying about mob associations when DeNaples applied for his casino license.
Gov. Rendell, a Democrat, and state Attorney General Tom Corbett, a Republican, both received large political donations from DeNaples in the run-up to the awarding of the slots license. Rendell received two donations from DeNaples totaling $115,000 in August 2002. AG Corbett accepted a $25,000 contribution from DeNaples in 2004.
Both Rendell and Corbett to date have refused to return DeNaples' contributions.
In contrast, Gov. Rendell's Democratic predecessor, the late Gov. Bob Casey, returned donations offered by DeNaples, who is a Scranton businessman.
In Gov. Ed Rendell, DeNaples found a friend in Pennsylvania who does not seem to care at all about DeNaples' dodgy background.
In fact, Rendell increasingly is seen as obstructing the truth about Louis DeNaples. After Gov. Rendell and the legislature created the state Gaming Control Board in 2004, the Rendell-controlled state police refused to share sensitive criminal background information on DeNaples with the board.
Who's the boss?
Heaven can wait: Indicted slots licensee Louis DeNaples (left) with Father Joseph Sica. Former PA Gov. Bob Casey returned donations from DeNaples, but Gov. Ed Rendell (top of page) took $115,000.
Republicans share equal dollops of blame for the DeNaples fiasco. Former Republican U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, Thomas Marino, recused himself from investigations involving DeNaples when he notified the U.S. Justice Department that he was a reference on DeNaples' slots license. Marino now works as an in-house attorney for DeNaples.
"It's corrupt from top to bottom," one shocked observer groans.
Gov. Rendell has not been forthcoming about his relationship with DeNaples, or his roll in the awarding of a casino license to the DeNaples' Mount Airy Casino Resort in the Poconos.
Majority Leader DeWeese may provide insight into this and other questions. As house Democratic leader, DeWeese appointed longtime friend Jeffrey Coy to the Gaming Control Board in 2004.
In Pennsylvania, political calculations play a role in the prosecution of DeWeese and the others. The Democrats in the state General Assembly hold the slimmest of majorities -- a single seat -- and the loud indictment of the top Democrat in the legislature may swing the House to the Republicans in future elections.
As well, Republicans AG Corbett, and U.S. Attorney Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania's eastern district, are both seen as jockeying for position to succeed Rendell as governor.
Making a list and checking it twice
Company they keep: Former GOP U.S. Attorney Tom Marino (top) was listed as a reference for DeNaples' slots license, and now works for DeNaples. PA Attorney General Tom Corbett (bottom) refuses to return $25,000 contribution from DeNaples.
Grand jurors in the past months have heard appalling testimony into what amounts to deep-rooted systemic corruption in the Rendell administration, the state legislature, and the courts.
Grand jurors appear to be shocked at the level of corruption and partisan cronyism allowed under Gov. Rendell and AG Corbett.
Under scrutiny, for example, are lists of major political contributors. When a contributor gives five thousand dollars to, say, Gov. Rendell or other Democrats, the contributor's name is added to a list. If somebody needs help from state government, his name must be on the contributors list, or help won't be forthcoming, Pennsylvanians complain.
Investigators are also probing allegations that some $26 million in public money has been given to casino developers.
See no evil, speak no evil
Growing systemic corruption in Pennsylvania also involves the attempted silencing of writers and reporters, who increasingly find themselves threatened with subpoenas and legal action. DeNaples in June subpoened 15 reporters, demanding names of sources.
It's part of an obvious effort to stifle public review of growing corruption under Ed Rendell in the Keystone State.
The trick for compromised Republican prosecutors will be to keep public attention focused on the small-scale Democratic staff bonus scandal, and away from revelations involving the truly dark and shameful Rendell/Corbett/DeNaples travesty.
Meanwhile, also in the background, the not-so-radical League of Women Voters recently filed a federal lawsuit charging that Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices gave themselves a pay raise in return for a ruling allowing casino gambling. In essence, between the lines, the suit alleges that the high court judges lined their pockets by selling the commonwealth out to the mob.
It's not exactly a beautiful day in Pennsylvania. Concerned citizens, at last, are beginning to speak out. That could be the darkest trouble of all for Pennsylvania officials of both parties.
'The PR trick for compromised GOP prosecutors will be to keep public attention focused on the small-scale Democratic staff bonus scandal, and away from revelations involving the truly dark and shameful Rendell/Corbett/DeNaples travesty'
For months Rep. DeWeese has been on edge about the possibility of an impending indictment, staffers say. In a playful exchange in his capitol office, DeWeese recently laughed away the possibility that he would be indicted.
Two staff lawyers told him to stop laughing and to take the possibility seriously.
Tom Andrews, a spokesman for Rep. DeWeese, when asked for comment on this story, ironically laughed.
"I laughed," Andrews said. "That's my comment."
When asked if he wished to make any further comment, Andrews said, more soberly, "We have been cooperating fully with the investigation."
Prosecutors are expected to make public the charges against Majority Leader DeWeese and others within the next year or two.