Political acquaintances expressed sadness Wednesday that former Democratic state Rep. Steve Stetler had been found guilty of six political-corruption charges, exposing him to a likely prison sentence.
"I'm, I guess, surprised and shocked. Steve Stetler is a good man," President York County Commissioner Steve Chronister said. "I certainly don't second-guess the jury. They looked to the facts and made a decision. I just hope an innocent man wasn't charged."
Chronister, a Republican, said he didn't follow the trial close enough to know all the evidence presented. But, he said, "It just seems there could have been some reasonable doubt."
"Prisons are for criminals," he said. "Steve Stetler's not a criminal in my book."
The jury announced its decision Wednesday morning that Stetler is guilty of conflict of interest, criminal conspiracy and the felonies of theft by unlawful taking, theft by deception, theft of services and theft by failure to make required disposition.
Stetler, 62, of York, remains free pending sentencing.
York City Councilman Henry Nixon, a fellow Democrat who's known Stetler for many years, said he was "saddened" by the verdict.
"I don't think he ever did anything to better himself, his position, his office, his income or anything like that," Nixon said. "If he ever did anything it was to better his community."
Nixon said he believes Stetler is the victim of an anti-politician climate and a flawed system. The public may not realize how difficult it is for lawmakers to keep their political and legislative lives completely separate, he said.
"When you have a system that asks a representative to run every two years, what do you expect? The system is really at much at fault as any one person," Nixon said.
State Rep. Eugene DePasquale, D-York City, also said he was saddened by the verdict. DePasquale, who holds Stetler's former seat, said the Bonusgate investigations have had a profound impact on legislators.
"It certainly has been a cultural change in the way Harrisburg operates," he said.
Democratic Party of York County Chairman Bob Kefauver issued a written statement Wednesday.
"It is important for elected leaders to hold and protect the public trust, and when that trust is broken there must be consequences," Kefauver wrote. "We, like all York County residents, will continue to follow this story through to the end, but mostly we remain focused on the issues that people are concerned about in this upcoming election: job creation, reducing costs by eliminating waste and fraud, improving our schools and moving this nation and this state forward."
York County Republican Party Chairman Bob Wilson said he is "just thankful that this is over."
"We're at the end of a very long road here. And I think that a lot of us that are in the political world are just looking forward to the conclusion of all of this," Wilson said. "I think all of us want to move forward."
Former York City Mayor John Brenner called the trial and verdict a "tragedy." Stetler is a "decent and hardworking human being who cares very deeply about our community," Brenner said.
"This is an individual who worked very, very hard to advance our community for a long time. I just hope that that is not lost," Brenner said.
Asked for his comments on the case, former York City Council President Cameron Texter issued the following statement. Texter, who works for the House Democratic Caucus as a researcher in the Office of Member Services, testified at Stetler's trial.
"At some point I will have a lot to share about my experiences regarding the entire situation related to the charges leveled against Steve and also about the Bonusgate investigation," Texter wrote. "I still have a lot to say and a lot to tell, much of which I wish would have come out in court. That in my mind must wait for another day. It's only appropriate. I will say that my thoughts and prayers remain today solely with Steve and the entire Stetler family."
- Erin James may also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.