HARRISBURG - Facing the pressure of 82 public-corruption counts, former House Speaker John M. Perzel is scheduled to plead guilty Wednesday in a sweeping case alleging he misused public money for campaign purposes and then tried to cover it up.
The onetime top Philadelphia Republican's plea, scheduled for 1 p.m. in Dauphin County Court, would make him the highest-profile official to cooperate in the case that stemmed out of the Bonusgate scandal in the Capitol.
Perzel, 61, who has repeatedly insisted he is innocent after being charged by the Attorney General's Office in late 2009, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Neither could his attorney, Brian J. McMonagle.
Nils Frederiksen, spokesman for Attorney General Linda Kelly, would not release information on the charges to which Perzel would plead guilty.
"We will not be making any comment at this time," he said.
The impending plea, made public Tuesday morning through an order by Dauphin County Judge Richard A. Lewis, put to rest rumors that have circulated for weeks about Perzel's cooperating. At the same time, it quickly fueled speculation as to what information Perzel, once one of the most powerful people in Pennsylvania politics, might be providing - and about whom.
It also raised more than a few eyebrows in the Capitol, where few expected the shrewd, fast-talking politician with a reputation of taking no prisoners to cooperate with law enforcement authorities.
Still, those who know him say that Perzel was - and remains - a pragmatist who knew when to stand tough and when to cut a deal.
"It's about exposure - he knew he was facing a lot of counts, and even if you're only found guilty of a few, that adds up to a lot of time," said one lawyer involved in the case who asked not to be identified.
Perzel's case, given the nickname "Computergate" by the court, grew out of the attorney general's wide-ranging Bonusgate investigation, which focused on House Democrats and taxpayer-funded bonuses they awarded to staffers who did political work, often on state time and using state resources.
In that case, 12 people were charged - three were convicted, including Mike Veon, a onetime top House Democrat; seven people pleaded guilty; and two were acquitted.
Perzel had been charged with conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and conflict of interest.
A grand jury found that Perzel had spent upward of $10 million in taxpayer funds to create as many as a dozen computer programs designed to give him and fellow GOP politicians an upper hand in elections.
The programs allowed Perzel, who represented Northeast Philadelphia for more than three decades, to analyze vast amounts of data and target campaign and fund-raising messages to voters more efficiently and effectively.
"Perzel was the architect behind a sophisticated criminal strategy that spent nearly $10 million of taxpayer money purely for campaign work," then-Attorney General Tom Corbett said when announcing the charges in November 2009.
Nine other people with ties to the House Republican caucus were charged along with Perzel, including his onetime chief of staff Brian Preski.
Neither Preski nor his attorney, Bill Winning, could be reached for comment Tuesday.
Also charged in the case was another former lawmaker, Brett Feese of Lycoming County. His attorney, Josh Lock, could not be reached for comment.
Also expected to plead guilty alongside Perzel on Wednesday is Eric Ruth, Perzel's nephew and a former House Republican technology employee. He will plead to one felony count each of conspiracy and conflict of interest, said Evan Kelly, his attorney.
Earlier this month, Samuel "Buzz" Stokes, 69, of Philadelphia, Perzel's brother-in-law and former campaign manager; former campaign aide Don McClintock, 43, of Voorhees; and Paul Towhey, 40, of Blue Bell, all pleaded guilty in the case.
That leaves five other defendants. Aside from Feese and Preski, also awaiting trial are Elmer "Al" Bowman and Jill Seaman, both former aides to Feese. Jury selection in that trial is scheduled to begin in mid-September. John Zimmerman, a legislative aide to Perzel, is being prosecuted separately and is expected to go on trial later this year.