Casino contributions probed

Sunday, March 30, 2008 BY CHARLES THOMPSON Of The Patriot-News Attorney General Tom Corbett's agents are following a new lead in their yearlong probe of General Assembly operations: campaign contributions from would-be casino operators. Sources familiar with the probe said state investigators in recent weeks have issued subpoenas for records from the campaign committees of at least four current or former Democratic lawmakers, seeking information about contributions from applicants for Pennsylvania's casino licenses. The subpoenas have resulted, in some cases, in appearances by campaign officials before a statewide grand jury. Among the former lawmakers targeted was Mike Veon, the former Democratic whip in the House of Representatives who was defeated in his 2006 re-election bid, according to documents obtained by The Patriot-News. Attempts to reach Veon on Friday for this story were unsuccessful. But the sources, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue, said a handful of other House members have also been subpoenaed, including at least two current members of the House Democratic caucus. Those members' identities could not immediately be confirmed. Tom Andrews, press secretary to House Majority Leader H. William DeWeese, D-Greene, said only that House Democrats were continuing to cooperate with Corbett's probe. Spokesmen for the three other legislative caucuses said they were unaware of any subpoenas going to their members as of Friday. Kevin Harley, spokesman for Corbett's office, declined comment on the probe, in keeping with office policy on grand jury investigations. Gambling interests contributed millions of dollars to state political candidates -- including Gov. Ed Rendell, Democratic and Republican legislative leaders and even Corbett -- in the early part of this decade. But the gambling expansion bill enacted in 2004 also contained an immediate ban on campaign contributions from casino companies and their key employees operating in other states. That ban also applied to would-be operators seeking a license after they had filed their applications. This isn't the first time that investigators have turned their attention to slots in Pennsylvania. Mount Airy Casino Resort owner Louis DeNaples was charged with perjury in January after a Dauphin County grand jury investigation into allegations that he lied to Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board investigators about relationships with alleged organized crime figures. Corbett's probe was launched in February 2007 as an inquiry into whether any of more than $3.6 million in taxpayer-funded bonuses paid to legislative staffers through 2005 and 2006 was tied to campaign work. No charges have been filed in that probe, and the Harrisburg-based grand jury that began hearing evidence on the bonuses and related allegations last summer saw its term end this month. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has approved a new panel to take testimony.