A SORDID TANGLE of corruption, cash and sex rocked the Statehouse yesterday in a political scandal that left one current and one former legislator and 10 current and former staff members facing criminal charges.
Among the accusations leveled by two state grand juries: Former top legislative staffer Mike Manzo got his lover, a twenty-something former rural beauty queen, a $29,000 job and $7,000 bonus mostly for doing her schoolwork.
State Attorney General Tom Corbett announced the charges against the 12, all Democrats, in a news conference in Harrisburg.
"It's a very sad day in Pennsylvania," Corbett said.
The long-running investigation began with a Harrisburg Patriot-News story about secret bonuses to legislative employees. The 12 are accused of using public funds to finance political activities, a vacation, meals for friends and Manzo's no-show job for his girlfriend.
The charges could harm Democrats in legislative battles this fall, and some have accused Republican Corbett of a partisan focus in the investigation.
Corbett said yesterday he'll probe Republicans and Democrats and that he had focused first on House Democrats because investigators discovered they were beginning to destroy documents relevant to the case.
"We are investigating all four caucuses of the general assembly," Corbett said.
Among the accusations in the grand-jury reports:
* In 2005, Manzo, then chief of staff to House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese, gave a $21,000-a-year state job with virtually no duties to Angela Bertugli, a young woman he'd had a sexual relationship with since the previous summer.
The following year she made $29,000 plus a $7,000 bonus, even though other staffers never saw her and she had no discernible responsibilities.
Manzo's wife, Rachel, another former legislative staffer, also is charged with steering public money to political activities.
* Former House whip Mike Veon and Manzo directed more than $1 million in taxpayer-funded bonuses to legislative employees for working on political campaigns, often on state time.
To decide which staffers got the most cash, a list ranked them as "rock stars," "good," or "OK," based upon the quality of their political work.
* In 2004, Veon used two state employees to drive his and his wife's motorcycles to South Dakota for their vacation so they could fly there and find the bikes waiting. Taxpayers covered their staffers' expenses to the tune of $1,500.
* After state Rep. Sean Ramaley won the 2004 Democratic primary for a Beaver County legislative seat, Veon gave him a "no-work" state job and allowed him to run his general-election campaign from Veon's office, with state employees doing much of the work.
* Veon used state money to buy dinner spreads for his friends after their regular Tuesday night basketball games. Over four years, the tab came to more than $22,000.
* Attorney Jeff Forman collected a state salary ranging from $103,000 to $126,000 as Veon's chief of staff while doing private law work on state time and charging taxpayers for comp time he didn't earn.
The grand jury charges that on some days, Forman's regular hours, comp time and billed legal hours added up to more than 24 hours.
Democratic strategist Ken Snyder yesterday noted that Ramaley, the state House member who was charged, is a relative newcomer to the Legislature who happens to be in a competitive race with Republicans for an open state Senate seat this year.
"Ultimately, the judicial system will sort all of this out," Snyder said, "but it looks awfully partisan and smells pretty bad that the only elected official he indicted is a Democrat who is running for the only Senate seat the Republicans are targeting in the entire state."
Reporters pressed Corbett yesterday on why he was charging 12 Democrats in an election year, rather than waiting until he'd investigated the Republican caucuses also.
"At this point in time it was the recommendation that we move forward," Corbett said. "We agreed with that."
Franklin & Marshall College analyst Terry Madonna said the political impact of the charges will be blunted by the fact that the bonus scandal has been in the news a long time, and that House Democrats have purged many staffers and implemented legislative reforms.
"The Democrats already sort of cleaned house," Madonna said. "If they hadn't taken some of these therapeutic steps, they'd be in a more perilous position. I'm not sure this is going to be such a disaster for the Democrats."
Robert G. Del Greco Jr., Veon's lawyer, said yesterday that Veon has consistently asserted he is innocent of any wrongdoing.
Ramaley's lawyer, Philip Ignelzi, said his client denies the charges and "did his job. He did what he was required to do, he did what he was asked to do."
Manzo's lawyer, Jim Eisenhower, did not return a phone message seeking comment.
Bertugli, who was not charged in the case, couldn't be reached for comment yesterday. *
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
You can see the entire grand jury pre- sentment at the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Web site, www.attorney general.gov.