Stephen Stetler enters the Dauphin County Courthouse before his sentencing Tuesday.
Stephen Stetler enters the Dauphin County Courthouse before his sentencing Tuesday. (Bill Kalina)

Former state Rep. Steve Stetler left a Dauphin County courtroom without comment Tuesday morning after being sentenced to 1-1/2 to five years in prison on his public corruption conviction.

Common Pleas Judge Todd A. Hoover also ordered Stetler to pay $35,000 in fines and $466,621.45 in restitution, as well as court costs.

Stetler, 63, of York, remains free on bail. Hoover ordered him to surrender to Dauphin County sheriff's deputies on Oct. 10.

Speaking to a courtroom packed with Stetler's family and friends, Hoover was quick to point out Stetler wasn't the mastermind behind the Pennsylvania legislature's public corruption scandal.

"When it comes to Mr. Stetler's level of participation ... he is not as culpable or complicit as others," Hoover said. "He didn't create, design or demand (the situation)."

'You were honest': Most convicted Bonusgate defendants acted in their own best interests, according to Hoover, but not Stetler.

"You didn't do this for your personal gain," the judge said to him. "There's no question ... you were there (in the legislature) to do good work ... for the people of the commonwealth. ... You were honest with people."

Hoover described Stetler as humble and benevolent.

"You were quietly generous to many folks who didn't have a voice in government," he said.

But Stetler did decide to use some of his staffers to do campaign work on their legislative time -- with taxpayers footing the bill, Hoover said. And he "induced" one of his staff members to do campaign fundraising during work hours, the judge said.

"You made some decisions you would not have otherwise made," Hoover told Stetler.

Appeal coming: Defense attorney Joshua Lock said Stetler will appeal the conviction.

"We did not and will not admit to culpability," he said. "Mr. Stetler testified (at trial) and said he didn't do anything wrong. He continues to assert that.

"I'm going to ask that bail be continued pending appeal," so Stetler can remain free, Lock said.

Evidence at issue? He said he expects attorneys for another Bonusgate defendant to file an appeal today in state Superior Court alleging, in part, the state Attorney General's Office destroyed evidence in the form of notes taken by investigators. It's an issue in Stetler's case as well, the attorney said.

"The prosecution in this case withheld evidence," Lock said. "They did it intentionally and (admitted doing it). They did it on a wide-scale basis over a lengthy period of time."

But Nils Frederiksen, spokesman for the attorney general's office, said Lock's accusations are baseless and have been rejected repeatedly by judges presiding over Bonusgate cases.

"This is a matter he and other defense attorneys ... have brought before judges," Frederiksen said. "Every judge that has looked at this has rejected it outright."

No evidence was destroyed, he said.

Sentence 'harsh': Lock called Stetler's 18- to 60-month sentence harsh, saying he asked the judge for a sentence of either probation or county prison with work release.

The length of the prison time imposed by Hoover makes it a state sentence, but it could also be served in a county prison. It's unclear where Stetler will serve his time.

Hoover must make the determination, Lock said.

If Stetler goes to state prison, Hoover said he is eligible for the Recidivism Risk Reduction Incentive program.

It offers nonviolent offenders a chance to reduce their prison sentences by completing recommended programs and having good conduct, according to the state Department of Corrections.

Shorter sentence? Inmates with minimum sentences of less than three years who complete RRRI only have to serve three-quarters of their minimum, according to DOC spokeswoman Susan Bensinger.

In Stetler's case, that would mean 13-1/2 months, or 4-1/2 months off his 18-month minimum.

Inmates serving county sentences are not eligible for RRRI, according to the department.

Stetler will lose his pension if he doesn't prevail on appeal, Lock confirmed.

Senior deputy attorney general Michael Sprow called Stetler's sentence appropriate.

The background: A jury on June 27 found Stetler guilty of conflict of interest, criminal conspiracy and four separate counts of theft.

He was convicted of misusing public funds and state employees for legislative campaigns while chairman of the House Democratic Campaign Committee from 2002 to 2006.

At the same time, Stetler also was chairman of the House Democratic Caucus' policy committee.

Stetler maintains his innocence.

He became 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.

Stetler represented York City and its surrounding area from 1991 to 2006 before stepping down to head the Pennsylvania Economy League. He served at the league until being chosen by Gov. Ed Rendell to run the state Revenue Department.

During his trial, about three dozen political, business and community leaders testified as character witnesses for Stetler, including former Gov. Ed Rendell and York City Mayor Kim Bracey.

-- Staff writer Liz Evans Scolforo can also be reached at levans@yorkdispatch.com.