Wednesday, November 14, 2007

7 Pa. House staffers out in shake-up

7 Pa. House staffers out in shake-up

The Democratic aides ousted over a probe into staff bonuses included Mike Manzo, chief of staff to Majority Leader Bill DeWeese.

By Mario F. Cattabiani and Angela Couloumbis

Inquirer Harrisburg Bureau

HARRISBURG - In the first public fallout from the criminal investigation into secret legislative bonuses, seven House Democratic staffers were forced out of their state jobs yesterday as part of a shake-up of key personnel within the caucus.

Among the seven was Mike Manzo, Majority Leader Bill DeWeese's highly regarded chief of staff and a key player in crafting policy and political strategy.

House officials would not say yesterday why Manzo or the other six were asked to leave their jobs.

But two sources familiar with the matter said the dismissals were directly related to the probe conducted by state Attorney General Tom Corbett into whether staffers were awarded taxpayer-funded bonuses for political campaign work they performed last year.

As part of that probe, House Democrats were subpoenaed last month for extensive records, computer files and e-mails that were to be turned over yesterday.

In the process of complying with the subpoenas, top Democrats came upon documents that revealed conduct that made the seven staffers' "continued employment untenable," the sources said.

Manzo, along with former Democratic Whip Mike Veon, was responsible for determining who received bonuses and for how much. Manzo himself received a $20,250 bonus last year on top of his $151,112 salary as DeWeese's top aide.

Manzo did not respond to several messages seeking comment yesterday.

Through his spokesman, DeWeese declined yesterday to answer questions about the dismissals. He released a late-afternoon statement announcing a new team of senior staffers joining his office.

"I am committed to working each and every day to earn the trust of our constituents and Pennsylvania's taxpayers," DeWeese said in the statement. "I am confident that the actions I have taken today will result in additional reform and accountability in this great institution."

DeWeese has said he knew little about the bonuses and had delegated the awarding of them to Manzo and Veon (D., Beaver).

Also forced from their state jobs yesterday were Scott Brubaker, director of staffing and administration; Brett Cott, a special assistant to DeWeese; Earl Mosley, director of personnel; Eric Webb, director of member services; Steve Keefer, director of information technology; and Lauren McClure of the office of staffing and administration. Attempts to reach the staffers were unsuccessful last night.

Of the seven, Webb is the only one who has testified thus far before the grand jury. To date, no charges have been filed as part of the investigation.

Cott is regarded as one of the key examples of the bonus controversy. He received $25,065 - the largest of the House Democratic staff bonuses - although he spent several months on leave campaigning for Veon, his boss at the time. Veon was defeated last year.

In all, House Democrats last year awarded just shy of $1.9 million in bonuses to 717 employees. House Republicans gave $270,000 to 45 aides, Senate Republicans gave $180,000 to 16 workers, and Senate Democrats awarded $38,000 to a dozen.

But it was news of Manzo's resignation that caused the biggest surprise in the Capitol. A fixture in Harrisburg since 1994, he has earned a reputation for hard work and political savvy that eventually propelled him into the top job for DeWeese.

Even Gov. Rendell said he tried to snag Manzo for a position in his administration, having offered him a job in late 2005 as communications director.

"He's an exceptional young guy with intelligence and judgment," Rendell said. "That's why this is so shocking to me."

Manzo joined DeWeese's staff in early 2000 as his press secretary. A year later, he became chief of staff.

Before signing up with DeWeese, Manzo worked for six years as an aide to Rep. Camille "Bud" George (D., Clearfield).

"He was a damn good employee," George said of Manzo yesterday. "Bright, articulate and energetic."

Manzo, sources said, met with DeWeese for two hours yesterday morning.

Afterward, Manzo told the Patriot-News of Harrisburg that he had told DeWeese in January, when news of the bonus payments first broke, that he would step aside whenever DeWeese felt his continued presence was becoming "a distraction" to legislative work.

"They decided that day was today," Manzo told the newspaper.

The grand-jury investigation into bonuses has been under way in Harrisburg since at least August. Investigators are also looking into whether campaign work was conducted on government time.

Initially, House Democrats had complained that the probe appeared to be focused solely on Democrats and they wondered whether Corbett, a Republican, was purposefully avoiding examining lawmakers in his party.

Fourteen House Democratic staffers have been called to testify; none from the other three caucuses.

But last month Corbett's office delivered a round of subpoenas seeking personnel records from House Republicans, effectively silencing those critics.

Contact staff writer Mario F. Cattabiani at 717-787-5990 or

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