Thursday, July 10, 2008

"Bonusgate" Suspects Indicted

After a 17-month probe, 10 Democratic House employees and two legislators including former Whip Mike Veon and current state Representative Sean Ramaley face criminal charges. The accused allegedly arranged for bonuses to be paid to staffers and volunteers in return for campaigning.

Representative Ramaley stands accused of holding a paid office requiring no work under Veon while Ramaley ran for office in 2004.

Veon, meanwhile, is allegedly the man behind the bonuses.

The grand jury found that in 2004, Veon and Rachel Manzo, executive director of the House Democratic Policy Committee, instructed House Democratic Caucus employee Eric Webb to classify and monitor the campaign efforts of party staffers. Webb, who testified under immunity, said that it was clearly understood by employees that campaign work was a mandatory part of their public employment. A total of $188,800 of taxpayer funds was given in bonuses in 2004.

Webb testified that in 2005 he continued to track the campaign efforts of Democratic employees. He categorized campaign efforts into "rockstar," "good," and "ok." These ratings determined which staffers received the taxpayer bonuses and how much. More than $167,500 was given in bonuses over the course of that year.

At this point, staff members had grown aware that bonuses were linked to campaign work. One House staffer testified that he and two other employees volunteered for campaign work in Allentown and brought their fishing gear. After arriving in Allentown and receiving their assignment, they promptly went to breakfast, and went fishing. Two weeks later, the employees all received $250 bonuses for their services. The employee stated that "we joked when we got the bonuses--we're not idiots--we figured out what it was for, we all joked that we are professional fishermen now."

2006 proved to be the largest year for the issuance of bonuses. Because of the 2006 pay raise vote and the fact that both democrats--now House Democratic Leader Bill DeWeese and Mike Veon--would face legitimate challengers in elections that year, campaign efforts soared and along with them: bonuses. A total of $1,285,250 was handed out that year.

Along with the bonuses, the grand jury also found that Veon was running an illegal campaign out of his office by utilizing materials and resources for promotion. There is also an alleged instance of Veon paying staffers to assist him on vacation and the supposed misuse of taxpayer funds to pay for dinners after pick-up basketball games totaling over $22,000.

Veon faces 59 counts including charges of conflict of interest, theft by unlawful taking, and criminal conspiracy and could face up to 381 years in prison if convicted on all offenses.

Representative Ramaley faces 6 counts with a possible 40 year sentence.

All 12 defendants are scheduled for arraignment tomorrow.

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