Leading Pennsylvania Democrat convicted of theft, conspiracy
A jury convicted former Pennsylvania House Democratic leader Bill DeWeese on Monday of theft, conspiracy, and other charges, but he said he would not give up his seat and would continue to seek reelection, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
“I certainly feel I did nothing wrong,” DeWeese insisted after a 12-person jury found him guilty of five of six charges brought against him by the state Attorney General’s Office. He was acquitted of one theft charge.
The legislator said that he believed a jury from his district of southwestern Pennsylvania would have acquitted him of all charges and that he hoped they will vote for him again this year.
DeWeese intends to continue showing up for work, he said, because he is “still a member of the General Assembly.”
Bonusgate, as the case has been known, stemmed from reports that Pennsylvania House Democrats were being paid with taxpayers money to do political campaign work. Prosecutors accused DeWeese of directing and forcing his staffers to do much of that work.
A total of 25 defendants were tried for Bonusgate-related offenses. Six legislators and staffers, including DeWeese, have been convicted; two were acquitted; 15 pleaded guilty; and one saw charges dropped.
One remaining defendant, former Democratic State Rep. Steve Stetler, will be tried later this year. He has served as the state’s revenue secretary.
Because of his conviction, DeWeese, who earns an $82,000 salary, will lose his state pension. He will also lose his seat in the house once he is sentenced.
Judge Todd A. Hoover will decide on April 24 how long DeWeese will spend behind bars. A likely sentence is thought to be between nine and 16 months for each of the five convicted charges.
DeWeese testified that he was not aware his staffers were doing political work on the public dime. It wasn’t until after the investigation began, he said, that he learned of it.
But one juror told the Inquirer that DeWeese could not explain his hiring of Kevin Sidella, a “legislative aide” who later came clean about the political work he was actually hired to do.
“I believe that he is a good person,” the juror said of DeWeese. “But even good people make mistakes.”
Rep. Dwight Evans of Philadelphia, a former DeWeese friend, said the newly minted felon is “an embarassment to the House” and should resign.