Veon trial: day two
February 2, 2010 2 Comments
A one-time top House Democratic staffer says the caucus was focused on winning back the majority between 2004 and 2006, and used a bonuses-for-campaign work scheme to help achieve that goal.
Mike Manzo, the ex-chief-of-staff to then-Minority Leader Bill DeWeese, testified he “pushed, shoved, cajoled, and begged” House Democratic staffers to volunteer on campaigns, but only a handful of aides were doing political work during their spare time. In 2004, Manzo said he approached Democratic Whip Mike Veon with the idea of paying tax-funded bonuses to staffers who volunteered, in order to incentivize other employees to do the same.
Veon and three former Democratic staffers are on trial for orchestrating the bonus scheme, in addition to other charges of theft, conflict of interest and criminal conspiracy. Manzo is cooperating with the prosecution as part of a plea deal.
Most of Manzo’s time on the stand Tuesday was spent reviewing email exchanges about which staffers would be rewarded, and how much money each person would get. In one November 2004 note to Veon and others, he included a list of staffers he was recommending for bonuses based on factors including “outside activities, special, general, Nader effort.” That was all campaign-related work. When asked to clarify what the email was about, Manzo testified, “we were gathering information so we could reward the people who worked on the campaign.”
Veon wrote back, “list looks good.” He asked Manzo to add some staffers from his district office to the list because they “did lots and lots of extra nights and weekends on Nader project…and all went to Butler many times in the last month.”
That was one of dozens of email exchanges Manzo discussed during more than six hours of testimony. Early in the day, Deputy Attorney General Pat Blessington asked him whether DeWeese, then the Democrats’ Minority Leader, knew about the tax-funded bonuses scheme. “I had discussions with Bill about bonuses,” Manzo testified. “But nothing specific.” He says it wasn’t his “intent to omit anything. Bill just wasn’t a hands-on guy. He didn’t care.” That’s why Manzo testified he worked out the program’s specifics with Veon.
Manzo testified, “I had to believe in my heard of hearts he knew people were being compensated. …it was very hard to me believe, and to this day hard to believe, he had no idea.” Veon’s lawyer, Dan Raynak, indicated during opening statements that a pillar of Veon’s defense will be the idea DeWeese, and not Veon, orchestrated the bonus program.