It was sometime in the spring of 2007. Harrisburg Democrats had just learned of the criminal investigation that would become known as Bonusgate.

As one of them later testified to a grand jury, staff members of Rep. Todd Eachus, then the Democratic policy chairman, became worried about the lawfulness of political work they were doing on state time.

John Paul Jones recalled fellow staff member Rachel Manzo's saying that maybe they needed to be a little more discreet.

Thus, Jones said, he stopped doing political chores in Eachus' office on the first floor of the Capitol, where there were "a lot of eyes."

He moved to an empty fifth-floor office.

At the same time, Eachus' staffers decided to stop using House e-mail for political purposes. Instead, Jones said, they used Yahoo Messenger "to communicate back and forth."

"In other words," a prosecutor asked Jones, "what you're saying is, 'We're going to keep on doing the wrongdoing, but we're going to have to hide it better.' "

"Exactly," Jones replied.

This bit of testimony was included in several excerpts of grand jury transcripts that were given to The Inquirer on condition of anonymity yesterday by a person connected to one of the 25 defendants in the Bonusgate investigation.

The testimony in those partial transcripts cracks a window into day-to-day life under the Capitol dome. It paints a picture of conduct, legal or not, that made reelection the top priority of every legislator.

It also suggests how power went to the head of at least one leader. The snippets reveal imperial tendencies of former House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese - charged last week in the state attorney general's Bonusgate investigation - who, witnesses said, required his House staffers to attend to his personal care, even sending one state aide to the drugstore for peanuts, dishwashing detergent, and condoms.

The testimony appears to implicate Eachus (D., Luzerne), now the House majority leader, in some of the same political activity at taxpayer expense that has resulted in criminal charges against 15 Democrats and 10 Republicans since July 2008. (The first Bonusgate trial ended this month with the acquittal of former Rep. Sean Ramaley, a Western Pennsylvania Democrat, on theft and other charges.)

Eachus has not been charged with any wrongdoing in the investigation, which is being overseen by Attorney General Tom Corbett, who is a Republican candidate for governor.

But grand jury witnesses said Eachus encouraged some on his House staff to do political work on state time.

Jones said Eachus himself placed fund-raising calls from his Capitol office. His staff would give him names of people likely to give $5,000 or $10,000 to either the House Democratic Campaign Committee or to Eachus' own political account, Jones testified.

Though he admitted doing political work during "95 percent" of work hours at some points in 2007, Jones has not been charged with any crime. While on Eachus' policy committee staff, he also served as executive director of the House Democrats' campaign committee.

He said that Eachus gave him a cover story: He was to say that his job was investigating alternative energy issues for the committee.

"Your job is to study alternative energy, correct?" a prosecutor asked Jones.

"Absolutely," Jones replied. "Yes."

"But you didn't study alternative energy?"

"No."

"Todd Eachus and the rest of his staff knew that, correct?"

"Correct."

The Associated Press on Tuesday quoted grand jury testimony linking Eachus to political activity on state time by himself and his staff.

Gov. Rendell commented yesterday, "Any time any member of the legislature is linked to alleged wrongdoing, I'm disappointed. But I caution all of us that Rep. Eachus hasn't been charged, and a charge is just a charge."

Manzo, who was executive director of the Democratic policy committee under Eachus, has been charged in the Bonusgate case. She awaits trial.

Her husband, Michael, who was DeWeese's chief of staff, has also been charged and expects to enter a guilty plea, his lawyer, James Eisenhower, said yesterday.

Rachel Manzo, in testimony before the grand jury, corroborated some of what Jones told the jurors.

She verified that Jones and a coworker had set up political operations on the fifth floor of the Capitol "so they would be out of public sight."

And she said Eachus talked with certain members of his staff about requirements to do political work.

A prosecutor asked her: "So these discussions manifested direct knowledge by Eachus that these people were involved in politics as part of their daily work?"

"Yes," she replied. "He used them daily for politics."

Grand jurors, hearing testimony over months from dozens of witnesses, also got a tutorial in some legal aspects of politics that must be replicated in every state capitol across the country. Prosecutors seemed eager to draw out the detail from testimony.

Jones, for instance, was asked how the policy committee was used by Democratic leaders to help the reelection efforts of vulnerable members.

The committee, Jones said, would go on the road - holding hearings in a member's district on a topic of local interest that was sure to get the member's name in the local newspaper.

The House Democratic budget for public-service announcements was used in the same way. Members who needed a publicity boost were invited to do the announcements. A prosecutor noted that it was as good as a TV ad, and free.

The segments of testimony provided to The Inquirer show that prosecutors also pressed several witnesses to draw out details of DeWeese's personal life as a longtime top Democrat in the House.

Those witnesses portrayed their former boss as a man who seemed to have installed himself as some sort of Harrisburg potentate, who demanded that staffers cut his sandwiches just so - in four pieces - and asked for a small coffee in a large cup, a small salad in a big bowl. He purportedly had staffers take his clothes for dry-cleaning.

Kevin Sidella, who was a researcher on DeWeese's staff, recalled, "He will hand you a cup and say, 'Get me 12 M&Ms' - ridiculous requests."

DeWeese reportedly didn't know how to use an ATM and had a staffer take out $100 at a time for him from his bank.

Efforts to contact DeWeese (D., Greene) last night for comment were unsuccessful. After he was charged last week with theft in the Bonusgate inquiry, he said he was "disappointed" and stepped down from the post of majority whip, as House rules require.

DeWeese, who can easily quote Shakespeare - and who delights in big words and grandiloquent speech - would pick a topic each year for what Michael Manzo called his "phony-baloney master's degree program."

One year, Manzo said, it would be the Civil War; the next it might be the American labor movement, or the history of Christianity.

Wherever he'd go, Michael Manzo said, he'd have aides set up dinners with college professors or other experts. Manzo said DeWeese justified the trips - and the use of staff in planning them - as scholarship that made him "a better orator and a debater on the House floor."

DeWeese, Manzo said, also had an aide call lobbyists - "You know, she had a list of every Harrisburg registered lobbyist, and she'd start at the top: 'Bill is in town tonight. He needs dinner.' "

But for all his wide-ranging interests, DeWeese seemed to have little patience for the issues lobbyists wanted to discuss.

Manzo recalled: "I would have lobbyists approach me and say, 'You know, it's such a waste of time taking your boss to dinner, because he doesn't even want to listen to any of our concerns about our clients.' "

Contact staff writer Tom Infield at 610-313-8205 or tinfield@phillynews.com.
Inquirer staff writer Amy Worden contributed to this article.