A former Dallastown resident who worked as a legislative aide to former state Rep. Steve Stetler told jurors he spent a good deal of his time on the job "volunteering" on several political campaigns around the state, despite the fact he remained on the state payroll.
John Paul Jones, now of Dauphin County, said he was even moved to the House Democratic Campaign Committee office to do some of that work. The campaign committee is a privately funded organization separate from the House Democratic Caucus. State legislators' staffers are part of the caucus and are paid with taxpayer money.
It's against the law in Pennsylvania for legislative staffers to do political work during their workdays, and also illegal for legislators to spend taxpayer money on campaigns.
Stetler, 62, of York, is charged with four counts of theft and one count each of criminal conspiracy and conflict of interest, for allegedly allowing and directing caucus staffers to do political work on state time.
The prosecution rested its case Wednesday afternoon, and the defense is expected to begin its case Thursday morning.
At the time of the alleged misconduct, Stetler was chairman of the caucus' policy committee and also was chairman of the campaign committee, according to the attorney general's office.
York mayoral race: One of the races Jones worked on was the re-election bid of former York City Mayor John Brenner.
On Wednesday, Jones testified he and Stetler discussed it several times.
"It became clear the mayor was in a real fight," he said, and Stetler believed if Brenner lost, Stetler's life "got exponentially harder."
That's because Stetler "had spent a lot of political capital" on various projects in York City, including economic development, and if Brenner lost those projects were dead in the water, according to Jones. Also, there was concern Stetler's own upcoming re-election race could be affected if Brenner lost, Jones said.
So Jones transferred from Stetler's Harrisburg office to his York district office. At first, he did some campaign work and some legislative work, Jones said, but as the election neared, he was spending nearly all his time helping Brenner get re-elected.
Bonuses: Jones said he also worked on Stetler's re-election campaign, starting in late 2005 and into 2006.
Jones and other staffers willing to "volunteer" on political campaigns were later rewarded with promotions and bonuses at their legislative jobs, he said, which is also illegal.
In 2006, Jones received a roughly $12,500 bonus, according to the attorney general's office.
"Political work in the caucus was 'optional-mandatory,'" Jones told jurors. "There was no real option for advancement in the caucus" without helping out on political campaigns.
Immunity: Jones has been given immunity for his testimony, according to his attorney, Chris Ferro. Jones worked for Stetler from 2002 until summer of 2006, when Stetler resigned from office.
Jones told jurors while there were cursory efforts to accrue comp time and use that for political volunteering, in truth there was no effort by legislators to review their staffers' comp-time requests.
Stetler also was involved in a plan to move some legislative staffers to district offices around the state, where they could act as de facto regional political directors for ongoing races, according to Jones. Again, the plan was for those staffers to remain on the state payroll, he said.
Jones confirmed other legislative staffers -- including former York City Councilman Cameron Texter -- conducted opposition research for election campaigns. Other staffers testified earlier this week that much of that work was done during the normal business day.
Database: Also testifying Wednesday was Eric Webb, the former director of the caucus' Office of Member Services. He became its director in 2005, but had worked for the caucus since 1997.
Webb said he, Stetler and Mike Manzo met in the summer of 2006 to discuss allowing staffers to use the LexisNexis database to conduct opposition research for political races. The caucus pays for the database, meaning it should not have been used for political reasons.
Manzo was chief of staff for former House Democratic leader Bill DeWeese, who is now in prison on his Bonusgate conviction.
At the meeting, it was decided researchers needed that database, Webb said; afterward, he and several of his staff members in the Office of Member Services all received passwords to access LexisNexis.
Even though the office is part of the caucus -- and its staff paid by taxpayers -- staffers there had been conducting opposition research while on the job for years, Webb testified.
'Stupid': Webb told jurors that in 2004, he realized legislators were awarding bonuses to staffers based on their "volunteer" work on political campaigns, which he called stupid. Leaders had asked him to compile a list of people who helped out, he said, which he did.
"I had the realization that I was now part of this," Webb said, and bonuses were given out the same way in 2005.
"They were dumb enough to do it twice," he said.
Each bonus check came with a thank-you note from DeWeese that cautioned the recipient not to tell anyone about his or her bonus, Webb said. He said it was DeWeese's way of creating a "smokescreen" to hide the fact that the bonuses really were tied to political work.
The background: Stetler represented York City and its surrounding area from 1991 to 2006 before stepping down to head the Pennsylvania Economy League.
He was appointed to head the state Department of Revenue in November 2008 but resigned from that post in December 2009, just hours before criminal charges against him were announced as part of the state's Bonusgate investigation.
A total of 25 people with ties to the state House Democratic and Republican caucuses were arrested during the Bonusgate investigation, now in its sixth year, according to The Associated Press.
Twelve Democrats and nine Republicans were convicted or have pleaded guilty as a result of the probe. Two defendants (both Democrats) were acquitted, and charges against a Republican defendant were dropped.
-- Liz Evans Scolforo can also be reached at 505-5429.