Here's hoping former House Speaker John M. Perzel is handed his head - figuratively, of course - when he is sentenced for bilking Pennsylvania taxpayers out of millions to pursue his political ambitions.
Even after pleading guilty Wednesday to eight counts of conspiracy, theft, and conflict of interest, Perzel tried to suggest that any wrongdoing on his part was merely a sin of omission, a result of his not paying sufficient attention to what others were doing.
"The truth is that as the legislative leader of my caucus, I oversaw the spending of millions of dollars in taxpayer funds, and I bear the responsibility for the improprieties that occurred in the spending of those dollars," said Perzel.
That was an apology? Dauphin County Judge Richard A. Lewis should have had violins playing in the background at the courthouse in Harrisburg for Perzel's bit of play acting. The man truly deserves no sympathy.
Perzel knew exactly what was going on because he was the mastermind. He and a cabal of Republican operatives diverted up to $10 million in state funds to pay for expensive computer programs that would give their candidates an advantage in elections.
They used the software to mine vast amounts of data about voters, including their party affiliation, gender, and religion. The database was so extensive that at one point Perzel allegedly sought to sell the information to others.
The Republican scheme, which led to the indictment of 10 people, was the other bookend to a Democratic scam that had earlier resulted in multiple indictments. The Democrats used taxpayer funds to pay bonuses to legislative staffers for political work.
Perzel had vowed to fight the charges to the end after he was indicted in November 2009. The end apparently came after his brother-in-law and former campaign manager, Samuel "Buzz" Stokes, pleaded guilty in the case in August. Stokes was expected to testify against Perzel.
The former legislator's conviction ends what might make a pretty good movie about the corruptive nature of politics. Thirty years ago, Perzel was handpicked for stardom by the late Billy Meehan, who had run the Philadelphia Republican Party, just as his father Austin Meehan had run it before him.
The city GOP, now under the leadership of Billy's son, Michael Meehan, has been foundering for years. Perzel's conviction is another blow. Indeed, all of Philadelphia misses the legislative clout that Perzel had, especially with Republicans now in control of the legislature and the governorship. But the price paid to end Perzel's corruptive practices is worth it.
Needed now are legislative reforms to prevent similar abuses from ever happening again.