Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
Former Democratic state House staffer Mike Manzo, the reputed mastermind of a scheme to use taxpayer dollars for political ends, has been sentenced to up to four years in state prison.
Dauphin County Judge Richard Lewis said the entire scheme of giving legislative staffers taxpayer-funded bonuses for working on political campaigns was Manzo’s “brainchild.” In 2009, Manzo struck a plea deal with prosecutors, agreeing to give up his state pension and testify against some of the biggest names in the corruption scandal – including his old boss, ex-House Speaker Bill DeWeese.
Manzo was all remorse and no excuses when he stood to offer a few comments to Judge Lewis before sentencing. “No culture committed this crime. No system committed this crime. I committed it,” he said.
Along with his prison sentence, Manzo received three years’ probation, $22,000 in fines, and $73,000 in restitution to the commonwealth. He’s due to report to prison May 16.
Outside the courtroom, Manzo explained his remarks to the judge about the myriad excuses offered by those who have been charged with corruption crimes.
“Throughout this process, I found it really disappointing that there were so many people who refused to step up and take responsibility,” said Manzo. “It was too easy for some people to say ‘Well, it was just the culture, or it was just the system, or it was the way everything was created.’ I never bought into that.”
He added: “I found it offensive how casually some people that were involved in this case were quick to pawn it off on somebody else.” Manzo said he wasn’t implying only his former boss.
25 former staffers and legislators have been charged by the state attorney general’s office for campaigning with public resources. 21 have been convicted.
Corey Leslie, working as part of Manzo’s defense team, argued that the sentence should be limited to probation or house arrest, given Manzo’s cooperation with state prosecutors. By Chief Deputy Attoreny General Frank Fina’s own account, that cooperation was “extensive.”
In his own statement to the judge, Fina said Manzo had helped with a “large number of investigations that have yet to be revealed… entirely separate from what the court has seen.”
Fina would not elaborate on those investigations. “I mean, I can’t,” Fina said. “I can’t say, one way or the other. We don’t do these things for public notoriety. And we can’t effectively do them if there is public notoriety. The only way we can really do our job is if we do these investigations in secret in a very careful way.”
Judge Lewis noted Manzo’s gentlemanly conduct during lengthy and aggressive cross examination of trials past. He said that, while he did not doubt Manzo’s cooperation, the corruption crimes committed under Manzo’s watch were “his brainchild,” and a probation sentence would be “inadequate.”
“We are disappointed with the sentence, but we understand it,” said defense attorney Jim Eisenhower, standing next to his client: “Mr. Manzo will serve it and then get on with his life.”
Published in State House Sound Bitesback to top
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