HARRISBURG - The top Republican in the House is scheduled to testify this week in the political corruption case known as Computergate, setting the stage for uncomfortable questions about what he knew about taxpayer money being used to win elections.
House Speaker Sam Smith (R., Jefferson), who has not been charged, will take the stand Wednesday morning, said Bill Fetterhoff, one of two defense attorneys in the case. Both Fetterhoff and defense lawyer Josh Lock have subpoenaed Smith as a witness.
Also subpoenaed and expected to take the stand Wednesday is Anthony Aliano, Smith's chief of staff.
Smith's name has come up several times during the trial, where two people once associated with the House Republican caucus stand accused of using public dollars between 2002 and 2008 to buy sophisticated computer equipment that was then used for political campaigns.
Ten people were originally charged in the case, including former House Speaker John M. Perzel of Northeast Philadelphia. Perzel and six others have made pleas. Remaining at the defense table are former GOP Rep. Brett Feese of Lycoming County and his onetime aide, Jill Seaman.
When Perzel took the stand last week, he testified that Smith, who was also in leadership in the early and middle 2000s, controlled the caucus' checkbook and had to sign off on the computer-software contracts.
"Sam would do whatever I asked him to do," Perzel said.
Prosecutors did not ask any follow-up questions at the time, and Perzel declined to elaborate as he left the courthouse as to what exactly he meant.
But defense attorneys are in a position to ask Smith what he knew about who was behind the alleged conspiracy.
Smith did not comment on Perzel's testimony last week, and on Monday would not discuss his forthcoming trial appearance.
In the past, Smith has said that one of the costlier contracts for computer software, with a company called GCR & Associates, served a legitimate legislative purpose.
GCR, records show, was paid roughly $9 million for its work. Smith signed off on later versions of the contract, but severely scaled it back in 2007.
"The cost concerned me, but it was my judgment that it was a worthy project," Smith told The Inquirer in a November 2008 interview when asked about the work GCR did for the caucus.
Perzel contended last week while on the stand that "everyone knew" the computer programs were being used to help improve the House GOP's chances of winning elections.
"The management people, the people at the top of the hierarchy, knew," Perzel told the jury of six women and six men.
The programs had catchy names, such as the Edge and Candidate Connect, that allowed House GOP caucus members to mine specialized data on voters - everything from their party affiliation to where they shopped for groceries - to tailor campaign literature, Election Day tactics, and other campaign activities. The plan was to use such technology to gain and maintain the majority in the House.