H. WILLIAM DeWEESE, always a mix (he would say amalgam) of politics, passion and high-wire performance, has to hope there's a net stretched out under his long career.

For today the veteran Greene County lawmaker, a former House speaker, falls into the spreading morass of corruption charges engulfing the Pennsylvania Legislature.

He was scheduled to surrender at 9 a.m. before a magisterial district judge in Harrisburg on charges that he, like others, used the power of office to plan, plot and run political campaigns with taxpayer money.

It's deja vu, reminiscent of John Perzel and Vincent Fumo, the former charged in this same probe, the latter jailed by the feds. And it ain't over.

State Attorney General Tom Corbett's effort now has netted 25 legislative staffers, lawmakers or former lawmakers. Five pleaded guilty, one was acquitted and the rest await dates (or deals) with the system.

Corbett yesterday announced six criminal counts against

DeWeese - four counts of theft and one count each of conspiracy and conflict of interest - carrying a potential for 40 years in prison.

DeWeese, 59, has publicly and privately proclaimed his innocence since the probe began.

But the Republican attorney general (and candidate for governor) said a grand jury found that DeWeese, from 2001 to 2007, conducted fundraising at taxpayer expense and used state employees exclusively for campaigns.

DeWeese's former chief of staff, Mike Manzo, charged last year but cooperating with prosecutors, told the grand jury that DeWeese "had no campaign apparatus beyond his legislative staff," Corbett said.

Manzo also testified that De-Weese's longtime district aide, Sharon Rodavich, 53, "did nothing but politics . . . didn't do any [legislative] work" for her state salary and extensive sick leave, vacation and comp time, all with DeWeese's knowledge.

She and others involved got hundreds of thousands of dollars in state pay over multiple years.

Corbett's office also charged state Revenue Secretary Stephen Stetler, a former York County state rep, with theft and conspiracy related to running the House Democratic Campaign Committee for the 2004 election cycle.

The grand jury found that Stetler used legislative aides to conduct opposition research, and that when asked about switching to campaign funds to pay an outside consultant for such research, told employees: why pay when we have "a perfectly good system in place"?

Stetler, 60, yesterday resigned his Cabinet post hours before the charges were announced.

DeWeese is quite a story.

He's the highest-ranking lawmaker so far accused - Democratic majority whip, a post he must now forfeit.

He's the son of a small-town auto dealer who drove himself to the heights of power.

In college, he played for Atlantic Coast Conference baseball powerhouse Wake Forest. He was a Marine first lieutenant. And elected to the House in '76, he became chairman of the Judiciary Committee, though not a lawyer, and later held each of the top three leadership jobs.

His trademarks include world travel, the study of history and multisyllabic, lengthy loquaciousness. Nothing is "bad," it's "indecorous"; nothing's "stupid," it's "stultifying."

Yet his one-paragraph written statement issued last evening was plain: He has cooperated with investigators for almost three years and has directed his staff to do the same. It ended with, "Obviously I'm disappointed by today's action."

Today he joins another former speaker, Republican Perzel, snagged by an investigation Corbett says goes on. How far remains unclear.

"I don't have a crystal ball to say where we are in the greater scheme of things," Corbett said. "We follow the evidence where it leads, and that's what we're doing."

Asked about the culture of Harrisburg historically mixing politics and public service, Corbett said, "You don't go by the culture; you go by the law."

He later added, "Why don't these people understand that there has to be a separation from the politics and the office? Why do they think they can use people on the state payroll to do campaign work?"

Yet they seem to do so with pride.

A 2004 e-mail from Manzo to DeWeese obtained by the grand jury shows Manzo touting record-breaking fundraising, telling DeWeese, "You are now nearing Fumo-status."

Yeah, maybe too near.

Send e-mail to baerj@phillynews.com.

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