The case against former state Rep. Steve Stetler isn't complicated, a prosecutor with the state attorney general's office told jurors during opening statements Monday morning.
"This defendant used the public to benefit himself and his (political) party," senior deputy attorney general Michael Sprow said.
Sprow took less than 20 minutes to lay out the prosecution's case to jurors.
Stetler was chairman of the House Democratic Campaign Committee -- a privately funded organization that raises money for the state's Democratic party -- and, at the same time, was public policy chairman for the House Democratic Caucus.
'Easy access': In his leadership roles, Stetler had "easy access" to taxpayer resources, according to Sprow. He directed legislative employees -- who are paid with public money -- to help with fundraising efforts and with doing opposition research, he said.
Often, those employees did that work while taking "comp time" accrued at their legislative jobs, Sprow said, but told jurors that at least some of that comp time "was not legitimately earned in the first place."
The work done benefited both the state's Democratic party and Stetler himself, according to the prosecutor.
But in his 71-minute opening statement, defense attorney Joshua Lock put the blame squarely on other Bonusgate defendants, including former state Reps. Bill DeWeese and Mike Veon. Both men were former leaders of the state Democratic party, and both are currently serving prison sentences after being convicted of misusing taxpayer resources.
"There is no such thing as guilt by association," Lock said, and "mere knowledge" of what was going on isn't enough to constitute guilt.
He told jurors most members of the legislative staff take their jobs seriously and understand that their responsibilities must be kept separate from fund-raising work, which they must do on their own personal time.
Puppet-master? He scoffed at the idea Stetler was "puppet-master" of "some evil, calculated scheme" to defraud taxpayers by using state-paid employees to do campaign work.
Lock said Stetler spent his first dozen years as a state representative without looking for any leadership jobs, and only sought a leadership position after being approached by colleagues to do so. He eventually won the position of policy chairman, unseating a Veon ally.
"They wanted someone with the temerity and integrity to stand up to Mike Veon," Lock said. "That's what they wanted, and that's what they got."
Lock spoke of Stetler's sense of responsibility to his job, and the "almost endless list of civil and charitable activities in York" that Stetler was involved in.
Stetler, 62, of York, is charged with four counts of theft and one count each of criminal conspiracy and conflict of interest.
First witness: The first person to take the stand against Stetler on Monday morning was Erin Grace, formerly Erin Madison, who worked for Stetler as a research analyst at the House Democratic Caucus' public policy committee, where he was chairman.
Prior to that, she worked for the House Democratic Campaign Committee, raising funds for the party. She started there in May 2004 and left in November or December of that year when the campaign cycle was over, she said. She was a research analyst from the beginning of 2005 until the summer of 2006, when Stetler resigned.
According to Grace, Stetler told her she was expected to continue her efforts to raise funds from donors.
"I had some legislative responsibilities, but it wasn't the majority of my work," she said.
Grace estimated she spent at least half her time raising funds, managing donor lists, helping to plan and coordinate fundraisers, tracking donations, making phone calls and collecting donation checks.
Grace said she spent months working on an election in Allentown considered very important by Democratic party leaders, and as the election neared, "almost all of my time was spent on that effort."
Grace testified she reported to Stetler and others on her fundraising efforts.
"I thought it was understood it was part of my job," she said.
Legislative employees who volunteered their time to election campaigns and fundraising were rewarded with bonuses and promotions, Grace testified.
Grace was granted immunity for her testimony, meaning nothing she says can be held against her.
Opposition research: Also testifying Monday was Stephen Webb, who in July 2003 was hired to work as a research analyst in the research office of the House Democratic Caucus. He's now in a management position there.
Webb explained to jurors he did "opposition research," looking for skeletons in the closets of both opposition candidates and the Democrats' own candidates, in the 2004 and 2006 campaign cycles.
Because he is a legislative employee paid by the state, he and other researchers were encouraged to do opposition research during their lunch hours, Webb said.
"But realistically, that wasn't possible," he said, so the research was done whenever he and other researchers had free time from their legislative duties. "It was basically understood you just had to get the work done."
He and his colleagues were told to use their discretion and not leave campaign work on their desks or tell people about it, according to Webb, "primarily because we weren't supposed to be doing that on Commonwealth time."
Webb said legislative workers who volunteered to work on campaigns were rewarded with bonuses and promotions. Those who declined to work on campaigns were passed over for promotions and not considered by party leadership to be "team players," he said.
He also explained some emails shown to jurors by the prosecution. Those emails were about campaign work, and Stetler either generated or replied to them, or was included in the recipient list.
Cross-examination of Webb is expected to begin when trial resumes at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.
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.
A total of 25 people with ties to the state House Democratic and Republican caucuses were arrested in the state's 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.