HARRISBURG - Witnesses have told a grand jury that the majority leader of the Pennsylvania House directed campaign activities by legislative employees and raised campaign funds from inside the Capitol, according to transcripts obtained by the Associated Press.
The witnesses in the so-called Bonusgate investigation, which has reached top levels of the General Assembly, allege conduct by Todd Eachus similar to that for which 25 others have been charged with crimes. Eachus has not been charged.
John Paul Jones, a $62,000-a-year legislative research specialist until December 2007, told the grand jury that Eachus (D., Luzerne) brought him onto the state payroll after the November 2006 election, which returned Democrats to the majority in the House, with a cover story about his legislative work.
"That was sort of like the code of, here's what I do, but really I was solely there as a political guy," Jones said.
Jones testified that Eachus told him he considered the General Assembly's capability to produce public service announcements a free tool to help incumbents get reelected.
Eachus last night hung up on an Inquirer reporter seeking his comment on the AP story. He also declined to comment to the AP.
Earlier this week, Eachus told WNEP-TV in Scranton that he was shocked and saddened "to see colleagues of ours having problems. But I say this, that anyone who has created a problem should face justice."
Kevin Harley, a spokesman for state Attorney General Tom Corbett, said last night that he was not permitted to comment on any grand-jury testimony.
Corbett, a Republican candidate for governor next year, has been investigating whether state lawmakers and their aides used legislative employees and state-owned equipment for campaign purposes.
The Bonusgate scandal began with news that millions in bonuses had been quietly handed out to legislative staff. Since then, a series of five grand-jury reports has alleged that many of the bonuses were part of a conspiracy that also involved state contracts and computer equipment, as well as some of the highest-ranking members of the House and aides.
The transcripts were provided to the AP on the condition of anonymity by a person connected to the defendants, who are expected to go on trial in January.
In a May 2008 grand-jury appearance, Jones said that while he was working for the House Democratic Campaign Committee in the run-up to the 2006 election, he and another campaign committee employee worked closely with Eachus out of an office in the Capitol's East Wing.
He said they helped Eachus phone Democratic state representatives to pressure them either to donate to the campaign committee or promise to spend a certain amount on their own races.
"As Todd would often say, he wanted to spend what he called soft dollars, which were government dollars, on public service announcements so that we had to ultimately spend less hard campaign dollars," Jones testified.
Jones said that for a time he and two other legislative aides spent nearly all day on political matters, raising money and performing other campaign-related duties. A phone number could not be located for Jones.
An unidentified state prosecutor, in the grand-jury transcript, asked Jones whether Eachus was "directing and encouraging" their campaign efforts.
"Oh, yeah, sure," Jones replied. "There were plenty of times where [an aide] and I would be in to make phone calls or to staff Todd so he could make fund-raising phone calls out of his office."
Eachus was closely allied with former House Whip Mike Veon (D., Beaver), whom prosecutors have portrayed as a leading figure in a conspiracy to divert public employees and resources for campaign work before he lost reelection in 2006.
Veon and as many as four others with ties to House Democrats are expected to go on trial next month on charges of theft, conspiracy, and conflict of interest.
Veon codefendant Rachel Manzo had been House Democratic policy committee executive director under Eachus at the time of her arrest in July 2008. On the same August day that she appeared before the grand jury, she signed an agreement with prosecutors to plead guilty to a misdemeanor count of theft of services.
A prosecutor asked Manzo about talking to Eachus about moving state workers spending time on campaigns to another office, according to a transcript.
"So those discussions manifested direct knowledge by Eachus that these people were involved in politics as part of their daily work?" the prosecutor asked.
"Yes," she testified, according to the transcript. "He used them daily for politics."
Phone messages left for her and her lawyer, Bill Ward, were not returned.
The only defendant among the 25 arrested as part of the investigation who has gone to trial, former State Rep. Sean Ramaley (D., Beaver), was acquitted of all charges this month.