HARRISBURG – John Perzel and Bill DeWeese, longtime political adversaries who both served stints as speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, are on the verge of being paroled after serving nearly two years in prison for their roles in a legislative corruption scandal.
Perzel, a Philadelphia Republican, becomes eligible for release from Laurel Highlands Prison in Somerset on Wednesday under a decision by the state Board of Probation and Parole, but his release will occur a few days after that, the Corrections Department said Tuesday.
The board has cleared DeWeese, a Greene County Democrat, for parole from Retreat Prison in northeastern Pennsylvania as early as March 28.
Both Perzel and DeWeese were first elected to the House in the 1970s, served in leadership for much of their tenures of more than 30 years and wielded the speaker’s gavel – Perzel for four years and DeWeese for two.
Both men are 64.
They were among 22 House lawmakers and staff members – 13 Democrats and nine Republicans – who were convicted or pleaded guilty to corruption charges as a result of an investigation by the state attorney general’s office that began in 2007.
Prosecutors portrayed Perzel and DeWeese as the instigators of conspiracies to illegally use taxpayer-financed legislative employees, equipment and other public resources for the purpose of winning more elections.
The case against Perzel and the other GOP defendants revolved mostly around millions of dollars paid to hire out-of-state consultants who helped the caucus develop huge voter databases and customized software to promote more efficient campaigning.
Prosecutors said DeWeese used his position to persuade or force employees to perform illegal campaign work.
Perzel, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy, conflict of interest and theft, was ordered to pay $1 million in restitution. DeWeese, convicted by a jury of the same offenses, was required to pay about $117,000.
Both men were sentenced to prison terms of 2 1/2 to five years, but qualified for a special program that allows the minimum sentences to be reduced for certain non-violent offenders who participate in prison programs and don’t misbehave. They will remain on parole, subject to special restrictions and monitoring, until the end of their maximum sentences in 2017, according to parole board spokeswoman Laura Treaster.
DeWeese, who was the only sitting legislator to stand trial in the scandal, resigned from the House just hours before he was sentenced.
Stephanie Lupacchini, DeWeese’s girlfriend of nearly eight years, said she is excited about his impending release. She said she typically has visited him once a month, leaving the other four monthly visitation slots for friends and relatives.
“I’ll be there with bells on” when he gets out, said Lupacchini, a third-grade teacher in Hershey who was a steady presence throughout his trial.
Post-release living arrangements remain unresolved, she said. DeWeese owns a house in Greene County but is considering “some opportunities” for work in the capital, she said.
“If he’s gonna make any money, he’s going to have to go back to Harrisburg,” said Lupacchini, who lives in the same downtown Harrisburg apartment building where DeWeese used to live.
Perzel’s lawyer did not return messages and calls seeking comment Tuesday.
Two former lawmakers convicted in the scandal – former Rep. Mike Veon, D-Beaver, and former Rep. Brett Feese, R-Lycoming – are still serving prison terms and won’t be eligible for parole before June 2015, Treaster said.