HARRISBURG - When you worked for former Rep. Mike Veon, the No. 2 Democrat in the state House, two things were certain, prosecutors said: You would work hard on political campaigns while on the government clock; and if you did a "rock star" job, you would get something extra in your paycheck.
All compliments of the taxpayers, of course.
That illegal culture of underwriting political campaigns with public dollars was spotlighted yesterday in sweeping indictments of Veon, 10 former and current legislative aides, and a sitting lawmaker.
The allegations strike at top party staffers in the House, and more charges are expected, say prosecutors. Court documents suggested that hundreds of Democratic staffers might have been involved in illegal work.
The 12 are charged, in varying degrees, with theft and conflict of interest for running a massive political campaign machine out of government offices from Beaver County, where Veon lived, to the state Capitol.
The conspiracy within the House Democratic caucus, prosecutors say, was widespread. It ranged from handing out taxpayer-funded bonuses for campaign work to using state computers and telephones for political and personal purposes.
A number of those charged are accused of doing largely, or only, political work.
In one striking example, Veon had two aides, at public expense, drive his and his wife's motorcycles to Sturgis, S.D., so they would be waiting there for their vacation, court documents said.
"It's a very sad day," said Attorney General Tom Corbett, who announced the charges after a 17-month probe whose shadow had engulfed the Capitol in rumors.
Veon's attorney, Robert Del Greco, said the former lawmaker, who was booted from office in 2006 amid the pay-raise scandal, would surrender today and planned to fight the charges.
"It is obviously a disappointing and disconcerting day for Mike Veon," Del Greco said. "The charges are substantial and the stakes are high."
In all, Veon, who served 22 years in the House, was charged with 59 counts. Veon, who has long had a reputation as a shrewd political strategist, was largely credited with Democrats' regaining control of the state House in 2006.
Also charged yesterday were State Rep. Sean M. Ramaley (D., Beaver) and Michael Manzo, former chief of staff to House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese (D., Greene).
Corbett stressed yesterday that the investigation was examining members of both parties in the House and Senate. Corbett, a Republican with gubernatorial aspirations, has been accused of conducting a biased probe.
"Let me make this perfectly clear: This is not the conclusion," he said. "This is an ongoing investigation."
Doling out year-end bonuses had been a well-established, if secret, practice in Harrisburg's legislative circles. It became public only in early 2007 when the Patriot-News of Harrisburg ran stories about the payments.
That helped trigger the investigation, which has centered on Democrats because of the sheer dollar amount of the bonuses.
At the end of 2006, after winning back control of the lower chamber, House Democrats gave nearly $1.9 million in bonuses to 717 aides - more than the other three caucuses combined.
House Democrats, according to the charges, had the bonuses down to a science. House aides, at the request of Veon and Manzo, created a grading system for rewarding staffers who had done political work. The grades: "OK," "good," and "rock star." Depending on the grade, aides got anywhere from $250 to $25,000.
By 2006, the system of bonuses for political work was so ingrained that finding aides for campaigns was a cinch, the charges state.
But the work behind maintaining a list of employees who campaigned - and their performance - was not. Eric Webb, a former Democratic aide responsible for the list, testified that compiling the information was "actually worse than working the regular job."
Yesterday's charges included numerous allegations that some staffers did little but politics.
Out of Suite 626 in the Capitol, Democratic aides purportedly worked as research analysts. But prosecutors maintain they instead served as a massive fund-raising operation. Staffers were allegedly required, under Veon's direction, to book locations, prepare menus, and establish guest lists for political fund-raisers.
One aide, Patrick Lavelle, seemed to have no duties beyond fund-raising, according to court papers. He is among the 12 charged yesterday.
Separately, prosecutors allege that Veon created a state job for Ramaley after he won a Beaver County primary election in 2004 but before he won the general election.
The grand jury described it as a "no-work" job that allowed Ramaley to run his campaign directly from Veon's taxpayer-funded district office. From Veon's office, he made phone calls, and used phones, printers and copiers at taxpayer expense.
Ramaley's attorney, Philip Ignelzi, told the Associated Press that his client denied the charges and "did what he was required to do, did what he was asked to do."
All those charged are expected to turn themselves in this morning in front of a Harrisburg district judge.
In a statement, DeWeese said he shared "the outrage felt today by taxpayers across the state" and said he had implemented changes, including a new ethics policy.
"I feel searing disappointment over the actions of those I trusted, yet I am also proud of the staff in our caucus who came forward and told the truth," he said. "Pennsylvanians deserve nothing less."