By Tim Potts, Co-founder Democracy Rising PA
Attorney General Tom Corbett today announced charges against former House Democratic Whip Mike Veon, D-Beaver, in connection with a non-profit organization called the Beaver Initiative for Growth (BIG).
According to Corbett, Veon and his assistant, Anna Marie Peretta-Rosepink, used BIG as a personal and political piggy-bank, receiving $9.9 million in state taxpayer funds between 2003 and 2006 and no other funds from any other source. The funds came through "legislative grants," commonly known as WAMs, that were channeled through the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED).
Instead of using the funds for the stated purpose of spurring economic growth, a Pittsburgh grand jury found that BIG essentially amounted to a money-laundering operation, turning tax dollars into campaign dollars and rewards for political allies and Veon's brother. Among other things, Corbett says Veon and Peretta-Rosepink used tax dollars for:
- Rent for two offices that served as campaign headquarters in Midland (Beaver County) and Pittsburgh.
- Bonuses for legislative staff who worked on election campaigns for House Democrats.
- Consultants who then made campaign contributions to Veon and other House Democrats.
- One consultant which received $20,000 per month after Veon arranged for the consultant to hire his brother at $160,000 per year.
Click here for the news release issued by Corbett's office this afternoon.
Click here for a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story about today's events and about a BIG insider who saw the handwriting on the wall, bailing out in 2003 and leaving PA altogether rather than abide the corruption here.
Veon, Peretta-Rosepink and 10 others connected to the House Democratic Caucus were the first charged last year in the Bonus Scandal that Corbett continues to investigate. Click here for last July's DR News.
- Is this emblematic of DCED's oversight of hundreds of millions of dollars in WAMs? Will Corbett or Auditor General Jack Wagner (also a candidate for governor) investigate DCED?
- Why were no charges filed against the consultants, Veon's brother or legislative staffers who received bonuses for campaign work through BIG?
Putting Profit in Non-Profit
This is the second time in as many weeks that non-profit organizations sponsored by lawmakers have come under scrutiny. Last week, former state Sen. Vince Fumo, D-Phila., was convicted of 137 counts of public corruption that included using a non-profit to provide Fumo with personal services, tools and a variety of other benefits using tax dollars.
- Is Corbett investigating other local non-profits created by state lawmakers? (At least one other is known to exist.)
Fallout for Corbett
Today's charges are certain to raise the volume of the chorus of complaints that Corbett, a Republican, is letting fellow members of the GOP off the hook. After more than two years of investigations, Corbett so far has charged only Democrats with corruption although he has said that he also is investigating House and Senate Republicans.
Corbett also faces charges from a fellow Republican for engaging in the same activity that he is investigating and prosecuting in others: using state resources to campaign for elective office. Last week, Corbett filed papers for his expected run for governor next year. The filing prompted former U.S. Attorney Patrick Meehan, who prosecuted Fumo until Meehan resigned last year in preparation to run for governor, to suggest that Corbett ought to do the same. Meehan says that only by removing himself as attorney general can Corbett credibly claim that he is not using high-profile prosecutions as a taxpayer-subsidized campaign tactic.
- Will Meehan's complaint stick? Will Corbett's credibility with voters be the next victim of the culture of corruption in the capitol?
- When will the cost of corruption become high enough for lawmakers and the governor to do something about it? Or will voters have to take matters into their own hands again?
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