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DeWeese sentenced to as much as 5 years

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THE PATRIOT-NEWS
State Rep. Bill DeWeese, D-Greene County, speaks to the media after a Dauphin County jury convicted him of charges that he misused public resources by having his state-paid staff perform campaign work. 02/06/2012 DAN GLEITER, The Patriot-News

HARRISBURG — A Dauphin County judge on Tuesday sentenced former House Speaker Bill DeWeese to 2 12 to five years in prison on public corruption charges, hours before Greene County voters chose DeWeese as the Democratic nominee for the seat he resigned because of his conviction.

DeWeese, a former Marine Corps officer, showed no emotion as President Judge Todd Hoover imposed the sentence, fined him $25,000 and ordered him to pay $116,000 in restitution.

Taxpayers’ money “unfortunately was used for political advantage and personal gain and that’s a violation of the public trust,” Hoover said.

Deputy Attorney General Kenneth Brown called DeWeese a “common thief.”

A jury in February convicted DeWeese, 62, of theft, conspiracy and conflict of interest for using his district and Harrisburg staffs to campaign for him at taxpayers’ expense. DeWeese, with 35 years in the state House, loses a pension exceeding $2.8 million, said Harrisburg attorney John Connelly, a defense witness.

The pension revocation stems from a separate state law governing convictions of officials and is not part of the sentence.

DeWeese continues to deny any wrongdoing and plans to appeal the verdict. He will stay on the ballot for the 50th Legislative District through the November election, unless a lawsuit knocks him off, said his attorney, William Costopoulos.

“I still believe in Bill DeWeese. A lot of people believe in him,” Costopoulos said.

State law bars DeWeese from serving in the House with a felony conviction. In the past three decades, voters haven’t elected any legislator after a guilty verdict.

Despite his reputation for florid remarks, DeWeese spoke briefly in court. He said he “was very respectful of this court, the jury and its verdict. I apologize to family and friends.” Costopoulos said he instructed DeWeese not to speak afterward.

The Waynesburg lawmaker has shown “utter lack of remorse,” Brown said. “There is no accepting of responsibility. It’s everybody’s fault except his.”

“Ridiculous,” DeWeese’s girlfriend, Stephanie Lupaccini, said loudly, when she overheard Brown’s comment while leaving the courtroom.

Costopoulos said he would ask to keep DeWeese free on bail during an appeal, which Brown said the Attorney General’s Office would oppose. If a judge denies DeWeese bail, he must report to prison on May 14.

DeWeese, who ran unopposed in the Democratic primary, resigned his House seat effective at noon yesterday. No law prohibits him from remaining a candidate, said House Parliamentarian Clancy Myer.

Brown said DeWeese schemed over a series of years and elections, and threatened to fire employees if they would not do political work.

Another former House speaker, Republican John Perzel of Philadelphia, cut a plea deal with prosecutors and received a similar 2 12-to-five-year sentence for directing a $10 million House computer scam.

An early parole law the legislature approved four years ago makes nonviolent offenders such as DeWeese and Perzel eligible for release in 22 12 months.

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