Post-Gazette: Bonus scandal defendants arraigned

It what may be the most significant story of my young journalism career, here a double byline for a story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. This breaking story appeared on the Web and an extensive follow up will appear in tomorrow’s edition.

HARRISBURG – Preliminary arraignments were held today for 11 people charged in the state bonus scandal, in which state Rep. Michael Veon, current Rep. Sean Ramaley and 10 current and former Democratic staffers allegedly conspired to divert millions of dollars in state resources, including more than $1 million in illegal pay bonuses.

The charges stem from two grand jury presentments unveiled yesterday in which jurors said Mr. Veon and the staff members conspired to arrange hefty year-end bonuses to House employees who worked on political campaigns over a three-year period. Mr. Ramaley is accused of working full time on his 2004 House campaign in Beaver County while drawing a taxpayer salary as a member of Mr. Veon’s staff.

During the preliminary arraignments, the defendants hear, and are asked if they understand, the charges against them. They do not enter pleas.

The first preliminary arraignment took place yesterday for Jeff Foreman, an aide to House Majority Whip Keith McCall, D-Carbon. Mr. Foreman surrended to authorities even as Attorney General Tom Corbett held a press conference outlining the case. Mr. Foreman, who was charged with conspiracy, theft, and conflict of interest, was released on $50,000 unsecured bail.

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Image of former House Democratic Leader Mike Veon, D-Beaver Falls, by Bradley C. Bower via Post-Gazette.

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Post-Gazette: Legislators, staffers charged in bonus probe [with my audio]

Details of the long-rumored “Bonusgate” scandal dropped this afternoon. I helped a bit with the reporting for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story written by Dennis Roddy and was charged with cutting some audio for the paper’s Web site.

Hear Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett at his 2 P.M. news conference…

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HARRISBURG — Attorney General Tom Corbett today filed charges against a dozen figures in the payroll bonus scandal, including former House Democratic Whip Michael Veon and current state Rep. Sean Ramaley.

Reports by two grand juries — one in Pittsburgh and another sitting here — laid out an array of accusations, including a conspiracy to deliver more than $1 million in state-paid bonuses to House employees who worked on political campaigns. Mr. Ramaley, 33, D-Economy, was accused of working full-time on his 2004 House campaign in Beaver County while drawing a taxpayer salary as a member of Mr. Veon’s staff.

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Photo by Dennis Roddy, courtesy of the Post-Gazette.

Number of Views:2188

Post-Gazette: Legislator rejects award from White Christian Nation

Here’s a very interesting story by Tracie Mauriello of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, on which I contributed some reporting yesterday.

HARRISBURG — An anti-Muslim remark made on the House floor last month inspired some to call state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe a bigot and others to call him intolerant.

One group, though, says it wants to give him an award.

The White Christian Nation compares Mr. Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, to prominent white supremacist leader Thomas Robb and says it wants to give him a Christian National Soldier Award during a rally the group is sponsoring Aug. 10 at Adams Township Community Park.

Mr. Metcalfe denounced the group and said he had never heard of White Christian Nation until it notified him of the award two weeks ago in separate letters signed by John Nayst and Jerry Western.

“I categorically reject any association with you, your organization and Mr. Robb,” Mr. Metcalfe wrote back in a letter dated July 3. “As an Army veteran who had the privilege and honor of serving the United States alongside extremely dedicated men and women of all races, religions and national ancestries, I will not allow my office or my name to be compromised.”

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Photo from Outraged Patriots.

Number of Views:3329

Slow day in the newsroom: Cherry pit spitting contest

Today, fellow reporters and I had a cherry pit spitting contest and I won.

So, the Pennsylvania state budget for the 2008-2009 fiscal year passed on Friday, so this week has been slow in the state Capitol newsroom. Sometimes you can find coverage, like the Pennsylvnaians who are fighting California wildfires, as I reported yesterday, but other times you can’t.

The Capitol newsroom is shared by a host of reporters from various outlets, all members of the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents’ Association. When everyone is bored, I hear, sometimes someone finds a fun distraction – though surely more wholesome than the gambling and drinking of the past.

The Patriot-News ran a wire story about a Michigan man who topped some record by spitting a cherry pit more than 56 feet.

So, why wouldn’t we have our own cherry pit spitting contest right in the newsroom?

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Number of Views:4857

Post-Gazette: Pennsylvania firefighters in California

This ran today for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The coverage is part of a post-graduate internship with the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents’ Association (PLCA).

HARRISBURG — Forty Pennsylvania firefighters ran into triple-digit temperatures yesterday as they began their first full day combating wildfires that are scorching northern California.

Two 20-person crews, including four firefighters from Western Pennsylvania, left Sunday from Harrisburg International Airport on a U.S. Forest Service-chartered jet. They arrived Monday and joined hundreds of other firefighters in trying to control the blaze that has burned since June 20, said John Miller, chief of Pennsylvania’s forest fire protection division.

“With the amount of fire activity in California right now, it’s very important” to get help from other states, said James Stone, a California Forest Service spokesman. “Those boys from Pennsylvania are a significant portion of that.”

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Photo courtesy of ABC Australia.

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Greek mythology and state government; no, it’s funny, I swear

Sometimes you have more color from a story than you can fit. Yesterday, for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, I covered a press conference held by a coalition of citizen groups calling for legislative reform on the third anniversary of the pay-raise controversy.

Interesting read, but I simply couldn’t get the following in the story:

Matt Brouillette of The Commonwealth Foundation, called state Rep. Babette Josephs, D-Philadelphia, a “minion” of House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese, D-Fayette.

Under DeWeese’s control, the chairwoman of the House State Government committee stalls reform legislation, Brouillette said.

“She is Cerberus, guarding the River Styx,” he said, referring to the fierce three-headed dog that is said to patrol the banks of the boundary between the Earth and the underworld in the Greek mythology.

What power I have, to keep this from readers.

Photo courtesy of Margaret Schaut.

Number of Views:23782

Post-Gazette: Three years later, citizen groups still want change in Harrisburg

This ran today for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The coverage is part of a post-graduate internship with the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents’ Association (PLCA).

HARRISBURG — A slim slice of carrot cake sat on a podium in the state Capitol rotunda today, marking the third anniversary of the infamous legislative pay-raise vote of July 7, 2005.

A coalition of citizens’ groups said the small piece of cake represented the state’s new open records law — the one and only piece of reform legislation that the General Assembly has enacted in the wake of a huge public outcry over the 2 a.m. vote to increase legislative salaries by up to 34 percent, an increase that was later repealed.

“There is not very much cake for the people of Pennsylvania to eat,” said Gene Stilp of Taxpayers & Ratepayers United, who hauled an inflatable pink pig around the state in late 2005 and 2006 to protest the pay raise.

The Legislature did approve some changes to its operating procedures, such as adjourning most sessions by 11 p.m. and waiting between six and 24 hours before taking final votes on bills.


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Photo courtesy of Three

Number of Views:2840

July 4 Fireworks in Harrisburg

After working on July 4, I missed out on the festivities – aside from a Yuengling at the Pub, a bar that wants to be a club that sits discreetly in the alleyway behind my apartment.

Fortunately, here in Harrisburg, they do July 4 right, and I got a repeat Sunday night, fireworks over the Susquehanna River. Fireworks, plenty of basketball, sun and no work over the weekend, a holiday indeed.

Below, see part of the show that went on Friday.

Anyone have great July 4 excitement?

Photo of Harrisburg fireworks thanks to Bridget Lynn.

Number of Views:4214

Historic newspaper circulation data: how many fewer newspaper readers are there?

Okay, we get it, newspaper circulation is down. Everyone is ditching print for online.

But, I get the feeling it is a bit exaggerated. I’ve already posted here that we’re simply living through what we’ll someday call the newspaper bubble, the market swinging the industry nearer to a healthy environment.

I would love to really investigate the rise and fall of newspaper circulation numbers through generations, but the numbers are kept fairly private by those who have the best access, groups like the Audit Bureau of Circulations, a nonprofit that was formed in 1914 by publishers and advertisers wanting to provide the industry regulated, reputable circulation data – and they aren’t giving it out to me.

So, we tend to mostly guess from reports in newspapers that provide some information. I did find some great numbers from the Newspaper Association of America, though the data is only up to 2003, perhaps before industry fears went public and the newspaper bubble had clearly burst. After that date, the NAA makes you pay for the information.

Rather than forking out the $50, let’s just crunch what we have.

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Number of Views:16709