Veon appeals BIG case, argues he shouldn’t pay taxpayers restitution
WILKES-BARRE — A lawyer for Mike Veon, the former Beaver County lawmaker who rose to No. 2 in the House as Democratic whip and fell to a scandal involving staff bonuses for campaign work, argued during his appeal of theft and conflict of interest charges that the state can’t be a victim deserving restitution.
Superior Court, convened at the Luzerne County Courthouse on Tuesday, will consider the appeal and did not announce a decision.
At Veon’s March 2012 trial, Deputy Attorney General Laurel Brandstetter argued that taxpayers became victims of Veon’s abuse of a nonprofit, the Beaver Initiative for Growth. Dauphin County Judge Bruce Bratton sentenced Veon to one to four years in prison and ordered him to pay the state $119,000 in restitution.
He was serving a sentence for multiple felonies.
In court documents, prosecutors claimed state law allows such restitution.
Veon established the nonprofit known as BIG and fueled it with $10 million in state grants he obtained over a decade.
His sentence in the BIG case was in addition to six to 14 years he is serving for directing the legislative bonus scandal. Convicted in 2010, Veon is an inmate at the State Correctional Institution at Laurel Highlands.
Veon oversaw the theft of $1.4 million in state funds that rewarded Democratic caucus staffers who worked on campaigns. Voters turned him out of office in the 2006 election.
Veon’s lawyer, Joel Sansone, continued to maintain that Veon was a victim of political prosecutions by the attorney general’s office, then headed by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett — a claim Corbett’s aides have denied. The Dauphin County trial judges in Veon’s cases rejected or refused to address that argument.
Veon’s other appeal issues include arguments that the state’s conflict of interest law is vague. Prosecutors say Superior Court resolved that issue in 2007 in former Rep. Jeffrey Habay’s appeal of a 2005 criminal conviction. The Shaler Republican was convicted of compelling staffers to work on his campaigns.
The court upheld the law, stating there is “a private monetary advantage” when a lawmaker directs state employees to campaign.
Prosecutors acknowledged that Veon took no money, Sansone said. Instead, the prosecution argued there was an “intangible benefit,” and that “could reach every politician of every stripe in this commonwealth,” Sansone said. He asked whether taxpayer-paid newsletters or public service announcements from which an elected official enhances his image with publicity breaks the law.
Deputy Attorney General Amy Zapp said Sansone selectively used statements from the BIG trial.
Veon’s use of BIG allowed him “to have his cake and eat it,” Zapp said.
Another appeal issue for Veon is a claim that prosecutors abused their discretion by amending the criminal complaint after his trial began. Bratton said the change clarified offenses outlined in the criminal information.
The BIG case involved Veon’s lease of office space in Pittsburgh’s South Side, where a House Democratic staffer hid his mistress, then a state-paid House staffer. Ex-BIG staffers said the nonprofit didn’t use the office.
Prosecutors showed that Veon’s chief of staff, Jeffrey Foreman, received $4,000 a month in legal work from BIG but performed little work. His Harrisburg law firm garnered more than $130,000 from BIG.
Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media’s state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or firstname.lastname@example.org.