HARRISBURG -- Seven former House Democratic staffers -- two of whom cried in court -- acknowledged Wednesday that they participated in a scheme to spend more than $1 million in state tax money for legislative campaigns.
Many of their guilty pleas could draw lengthy prison terms.
Their pleas are the first convictions in an investigation that began in 2007, with the revelation of bonuses paid to staffers and which spun into a wide-ranging public-corruption investigation of Democrats and Republicans by Attorney General Tom Corbett, a GOP candidate for governor.
Corbett's office has filed criminal charges against 25 former and present legislators and staffers. They are accused of using state resources for campaign work.
"It's a victory for justice, for Pennsylvanians and for taxpayers," Deputy Attorney General James Reeder said after the hearing yesterday.
The seven defendants -- most of them former managers for the House Democratic Caucus -- pleaded guilty in agreement for dismissal of some charges. They will cooperate with the prosecution at the Jan. 19 trial of former House Democratic Whip Mike Veon and three staffers. Veon, accused of masterminding the scheme to pay bonuses to staffers who worked on campaigns, maintains his innocence.
Michael Manzo, former chief of staff to former House Speaker and Democratic leader Bill DeWeese, faced 47 charges of theft, conspiracy and conflict of interest. He pleaded guilty to 10 felonies and could face a maximum of 46 years in prison. Sentencing likely won't happen until after Veon's trial.
A grand jury in July 2008 concluded that Manzo conspired with Veon to oversee the bonus scheme. One charge accused Manzo of employing a female intern, with whom he had sexual liaisons, for the caucus in Pittsburgh. Another charge accused him of directing and participating in research about political opponents.
"He has accepted responsibility for bad decisions and his actions," Manzo's attorney Jim Eisenhower told reporters. "He's making every effort to turn his life around, personally and professionally."
Manzo's wife, Rachel Manzo, who faced 12 counts, pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor theft charge. The Manzos live in Cumberland County.
Jeffrey Foreman of Harrisburg, former chief of staff for Veon, pleaded guilty to taking part in the bonus scheme; creating false compensatory time for employees; and approving travel and other expenses for campaigns. …