HARRISBURG - Stephen Stetler, a former state representative now serving as Gov. Rendell's revenue secretary, has been offered a chance by prosecutors to testify before a grand jury in the so-called "Bonusgate" corruption investigation.
Stetler received a letter from prosecutors in the state attorney general's office last week. Legal experts say such letters are akin to federal "target letters" and usually are precursors to the recipient being charged, though not always.
Rendell this afternoon confirmed the letter and lauded the work of Stetler, who he appointed as revenue secretary in 2008.
"I have full confidence in him," Rendell said at an unrelated news conference outside his Capitol offices. "Obviously, if something happens, we will deal with that at that point in time."
Calls seeking comment from Stetler and his attorney, Joshua Lock of Harrisburg, were not immediately returned.
Kevin Harley, a spokesman for Attorney General Tom Corbett, declined comment citing grand jury secrecy rules.
The letter Stetler received is believed to be similar to those sent last month to 10 people with ties to the House Republican caucus. All of them, including Rep. John Perzel (R., Phila.) the former speaker of the House, were criminally charged in the Bonusgate probe on Nov 12.
Those letters offered the individuals a chance to testify before the grand jury but without a grant of immunity.
Rendell told reporters that it was his understanding that Stetler - unlike those who received similar letters last month -intends to testify. Asked about that moments later, Rendell chief of staff Steve Crawford said Stetler had told him that he plans to "cooperate" with authorities. Crawford would not elaborate.
Stetler, 60, who represented York County for 16 years before leaving the House in 2006, had also served as the head of the House Democratic Campaign Committee, the political arm of the caucus.
Some of his actions in that role came under the scrutiny of Bonusgate investigators, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported in June. The paper said Stetler had allegedly rejected a plan to shift a piece of political work - "opposition research" on opposing candidates - from state-paid legislative staffers to a private company.
The Post-Gazette said that Dan Wiedemer, a former top campaign aide, told the grand jury that Stetler had killed the idea because House Democrats "have a perfectly good system in place already."
Stetler said having a private firm do the work would be too costly to campaign efforts, Wiedemer reportedly told the grand jury.
As revenue secretary, Stetler oversees an agency with about 2,100 employees and a $136 million annual budget.
News of the letter to Stetler comes as a jury was being selected in Dauphin County this week for the trial of former Rep. Sean Ramaley (D., Beaver), the first such criminal trial emanating from Bonusgate charges.
Opening arguments in that case are expected to start tomorrow.
Ramaley is facing allegations that he was paid as a "ghost" House employee when he was really campaigning for a seat in the state House. He and 11 others associated with the House Democratic caucus were charged in July 2008 in a scheme to divert taxpayer funds for campaign purposes.