Ex-Pa. speaker pleads guilty to corruption

Associated Press / September 1, 2011

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HARRISBURG, Pa. - The onetime speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives pleaded guilty yesterday to eight criminal charges stemming from a public corruption investigation, making him the highest-ranking state politician to be convicted in the 4 1/2-year inquiry.

Former representative John M. Perzel entered the plea to two counts of conflict of interest, two counts of theft, and four counts of conspiracy. He left the courthouse without commenting, but apologized in an e-mailed statement and said he bore responsibility for improprieties in spending public funds he controlled.

“It was up to me to see that taxpayer funds were spent only for the betterment of the people of Pennsylvania, and not for my political benefit [or] that of my party,’’ Perzel said in the release.

Prosecutors have described Perzel, 61, as being at the center of a scheme to spend millions of taxpayer dollars on computer technology for the benefit of GOP political campaigns.

Also yesterday, his nephew and codefendant Eric S. Ruth, 36, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and conflict of interest. Ruth once worked in the House Republican technology office.

Ruth and Perzel both agreed to cooperate with state prosecutors and could be compelled to testify against five others who await trial in the case.

In return, prosecutors dropped dozens of counts against each of them. Perzel is likely to lose his hefty state pension as a result, but the fate of Ruth’s retirement benefits was less clear.