Former state House speaker resentenced without restitution
FILE: Former Speaker Bill DeWeese
(Harrisburg) — A former speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives learned Wednesday he will not have to pay about $110,000 in restitution for his conviction six years ago for using staff to campaign on state time.
A county judge resentenced Bill DeWeese after an appeals court threw out the repayment because the government can’t be a victim for restitution purposes. The attorney general’s office had asked the judge to re-impose the restitution.
The judge said DeWeese, 68, has apparently forfeited his government pension, estimated to have been worth several million dollars, far more than the estimated cost of his crimes. The judge also said he would convert $25,000 in fines into a civil judgment.
DeWeese, a Democrat from southwestern Pennsylvania, served nearly two years in state prison after being convicted of conspiracy, conflict of interest and theft. He rose during nearly three decades in the General Assembly to positions of considerable power, including Democratic floor leader and, for a short time, House speaker.
The “Bonusgate” scandal, as it became known, began with a news account of bonuses being quietly distributed among House Democratic staffers. Bonusgate and its House Republican counterpart, “Computergate,” based on the conversion of public computer contracts to gain an edge in campaigns, ensnared a couple dozen people, including several of the House’s most powerful leaders.
DeWeese filed a federal court petition this week seeking a new trial on grounds that he should have been able to present more witnesses to say he admonished workers not to campaign on government time, and his lawyer made a mistake that prevented him from pursuing that issue on appeal.
Before Dauphin County Judge William Tully, DeWeese said that his sentence was disproportionately harsh compared to others in similar cases and asserted he was wrongly convicted.
“I still feel like I did nothing wrong,” said DeWeese, who now works a labor lobbyist. “I still feel that I am innocent.”
Prosecutor Brian Zarallo said DeWeese “boldly refuses to accept responsibility” and said the jury had no doubt about his guilt. He called DeWeese’s crimes “in essence a genuine assault on democracy.”
Tully said the trial judge’s sentence seemed appropriate, except for the financial penalties.
The judge urged DeWeese to “move on in life and don’t deprive yourself of your health going forward. Your debt to society has been paid.”