Flanked by two attorneys and wearing a dark blue suit, former Speaker of the House John Perzel stood in front of Dauphin County Judge Richard Lewis, Wednesday, to enter his guilty plea. The Philadelphia Republican did not speak to reporters as he entered or left the third floor courtroom, but he did release a written statement.
It reads: “…The truth is that as the legislative leader of my caucus, I oversaw the spending of millions of dollars in taxpayer funds, and I bear the responsibility for the improprieties that occurred in the spending of those dollars.” Perzel also expressed regret for his actions. “You had a right to expect better from me, and I am sorry I let you down,” the statement concludes.
Perzel pleaded guilty to 8 of 82-charges that were leveled against him in 2009. They range from conflict of interest, to theft, to conspiracy. He could face a maximum of 24-years behind bars, but the standard minimum sentence is 18 – 50-months. The charges also carry $50,000 dollars in fines.
“Whenever we have somebody of this responsibility and this position stepping forward and pleading guilty, and taking responsibility for illegal conduct, I think it is an important event,” Chief Deputy Attorney General Frank Fina told a tightly-packed gaggle of reporters. Fina says the plea agreement includes Perzel’s cooperation – and likely testimony – as the political corruption cases proceed.
A former Perzel aide was also in the courtroom, Wednesday, to plead guilty. It brings to five the number of guilty pleas out of the 10- Republican House members and staffers who were charged in the second round of the “Bonusgate” investigation. The political corruption probe also indicted 15-Democrats in phases I and III of the investigation.
A 188- page grand jury presentment from November of 2009 concluded that Perzel was the mastermind of a sophisticated scheme that spent more than $10-million taxpayer dollars for campaign work.
Political activist Gene Stilp of Taxpayers and Ratepayers United thinks Perzel’s guilty plea breathes new life into the ongoing political corruption investigation. “If he cooperates with the prosecution, many people in the House and the Senate should be worried,” Stilp says.