Former Pennsylvania House Speaker John Perzel today pleaded guilty to eight counts of conflict of interest, theft and conspiracy as part of a deal to cooperate with prosecutors in the ongoing investigation of legislative corruption. Perzel, who served more than 30 years in the House before being defeated in last November's election, had originally been charged with 82 counts. His plea agreement includes charges he used House Republican technology and staff for campaigns and fund-raising and also stole state money to pay for vendors contracted during campaigns. Chief Deputy Attorney General Frank Fina said the signal to other legislators is clear. "I would guess the message is don't commit crimes," said Fina. "I mean, you know, don't misuse the taxpayer's monies. I mean, these are, I think, very clear standards that I think need to be adhered to."
Fina would not comment on the details of Perzel's agreement to cooperate with the prosecution, but says he believes the once-powerful lawmaker will testify.
Perzel did not speak to reporters as he left the Dauphin County Courthouse but did issue a statement. "It was up to me to see that taxpayer funds were spent only for the betterment of the people of Pennsylvania, and not for my political benefit of that of my party," said Perzel. "You had a right to expect better from me, and I am sorry that I let you down."
The Philadelphia Republican is the fifth of 10 GOP lawmakers and staffers who have pleaded guilty in a criminal probe into the misuse of taxpayer dollars for personal and campaign purposes.
Perzel faces a maximum sentence of 24 years, but authorities indicate it will probably be in the range of 18 months to four years.It's not been specified how much restitution Perzel will be required to pay for the millions in public dollars spent under his watch. He remains free on bond pending his sentencing, which has yet to be scheduled.