HARRISBURG - The House Democratic caucus denied yesterday a request by its former second-ranking member to pay the costs of defending him against criminal charges in the legislative-corruption investigation.
Majority Leader Todd Eachus (D., Luzerne) made the decision in response to a Dec. 11 letter sent to him and other House leaders by Mike Veon's lawyer, Bob Del Greco.
Del Greco threatened to seek a federal injunction if the House did not agree to pay Veon's accrued legal expenses, and "all future attorney fees and related expenses consistent with its custom and practice of paying legal fees for House members and staff over the last two decades."
"It's a slam dunk," Eachus said of his decision. "I think people expect . . . me as a leader and the House Democratic caucus to be stewards of their tax dollars. Paying for liability exposure or legal exposure for former members of the House would be an unwise way to spend their tax dollars."
Veon, a former state representative from Beaver County, is among 12 people associated with the House Democratic caucus who were charged in July by the Attorney General's Office with theft, conflict of interest, and conspiracy in connection with the alleged illegal use of government employees and taxpayer money for electioneering.
Trial in Dauphin County Court is not expected before summer.
Veon was the Democratic whip before his defeat in 2006.
"We have no responsibility to pay legal costs that either Mike Veon or any other member incurs after their service," Eachus said.
Eachus said the policy has been that payment of legal bills for a House member or employee ends once that person has been charged with a crime. He said he intends to continue that policy.
Telephone and e-mail messages left yesterday for Veon and Del Greco were not immediately returned.
Del Greco's letter stated that the House had paid attorneys' fees for others in the legislative bonus investigation and "paid for legal representation or reimbursed multiple Democrat and Republican House members, House staff, and staff of the chief clerk's office for attorney fees over the last two decades, for various legal matters - both civil and criminal."
The letter was addressed to Eachus, House Chief Clerk Roger Nick, and four other leaders of both parties.
Nick said the House practice has been to stop paying bills once someone is charged with a crime. Senate GOP lawyer Steve MacNett said he could not remember a case in which the Legislature had paid for representation following arrest.
House Republican spokesman Steve Miskin said his caucus was paying legal costs related to the bonus investigation, but those payments would end for anyone who gets charged. Miskin said it was unlikely that the House Republicans would respond to Del Greco by Dec. 31, as he requested.
Veon "was never a member of our caucus, so I do not believe the caucus will be submitting any amount of money," Miskin said.
By late July, the House Democratic caucus had paid lawyers and consultants more than $1.4 million in public money for help responding to the investigation, including payments to about a dozen lawyers who represented more than 135 caucus employees and a small number of Democratic state representatives.
At that point, the House Republicans had spent $129,000 on investigation-related legal fees over 17 months. The Senate Democrats' outside legal costs for the investigation were less than $5,000 and the Senate Republicans reported about $260,000 in legal fees by that time.
Senate Republicans said no taxpayer money was spent on the legal defense of former Sen. Robert Regola (R., Westmoreland), who was acquitted of charges related to a teen neighbor's shooting death that authorities have called a suicide.
Legal expenses of former Sen. Vincent Fumo (D., Phila.) were paid by the Appropriations Committee before his February 2007 indictment on corruption charges but not since then, said Gary Tuma, a Democratic spokesman for the committee.