HARRISBURG - In 2004, Rep. John Perzel and several of his House Republican staffers traveled to Houston to meet with representatives of a computer company - and took a side trip to the Super Bowl.
Taxpayers ended up paying for part of it.
That is what Anthony Painter, the House GOP's former information technology director, testified Wednesday at a preliminary hearing for Perzel and nine others charged by the state Attorney General's Office with misusing public money for campaign purposes.
Painter also testified that he took a trip to Las Vegas in 2001 for a computer symposium that was both a "legislative and campaign trip," and that he stayed at the MGM Grand. Taxpayers picked up the tab for that, too: $3,400.
Painter told prosecutors that on the Houston trip, the state picked up the tab for his $760 airfare, although Perzel's attorney pointed out that the Super Bowl tickets had been paid for by Perzel's campaign account.
The preliminary hearing is expected to wrap up Thursday. District Judge William Wenner will decide whether there is enough evidence to proceed to trial.
Perzel is charged with 82 counts of theft, conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and conflict of interest. He is fighting the charges, and did not comment on the testimony as he left the Dauphin County courthouse Wednesday.
Prosecutors say Perzel spent nearly $10 million in taxpayer money to create as many as a dozen computer software programs designed to give him and fellow GOP politicians an upper hand in elections.
The other nine people charged in the case - including former Perzel chief of staff Brian Preski and former Rep. Brett Feese of Lycoming County - all had ties to the House Republican caucus.
Painter also testified that a company owned by the wives of Perzel and Preski sold state-owned computer data to the campaign of U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter. The data were paid for by taxpayer money but marketed by the company to assist in campaigns.
The preliminary hearing comes as a report from the state grand jury investigating corruption in the Capitol recommends sweeping changes in how the legislature conducts business.
Among other findings, the grand jury said that legislative employees have spent an enormous amount of time doing campaign work on state time. The grand jury said the legislature is stuck in a " 'time warp' of corruption," and recommended cutting legislative staff, instituting term limits for lawmakers, and moving to a part-time legislature.