Convicted Lawmaker Says It Was So Unfair
HARRISBURG, Pa. (CN) - Convicted Pennsylvania lawmaker Brett Feese claims in Federal Court that his "Computergate" conspiracy convictions were obtained through witness manipulation, threats and coercion.
Feese sued 15 state officials, including Gov. Tom Corbett, who was attorney general during the investigation that sent Feese to prison.
Feese's former staff member, Jill Seaman, who also was convicted, filed a separate, similar complaint.
Feese was sentenced to 4 to 12 years in state prison and ordered to pay $1 million in restitution.
Feese served six terms as a state representative, quit to become Republican chief counsel, the highest paying position in the Legislature, with a salary of $197,000, but had to leave that job after charges were filed against him.
Feese was convicted on all 40 charges against him in on Nov. 8, 2011 - Election Day. Seaman was convicted on the same day; seven others already had pleaded guilty.
Pennsylvania media had a field day with the "Computergate" scandal, in which Feese and others, in both parties, were accused of conspiring to use public money to buy sophisticated computer programs for political campaigns from 2000 to 2007, and diverting millions of dollars for state-paid computer services and state workers.
Feese's 40 counts included theft, hindering apprehension and conflict of interest for directing state-paid staff to do political work, conceal information from investigators and falsify evidence.
His complaint claims the way the "Computergate" investigation was handled shows Democratic officeholders' animus against Republicans.
Feese sued a slew of prosecutors and investigators in the attorney general's office.
He claims: "Each defendant either intentionally destroyed ... evidence, intentionally directed the destruction of such evidence, or, with actual knowledge, acquiesced in its destruction and/or established and maintained a policy, practice or custom permitting the destruction of such evidence."
It all began on Jan. 27, 2007, when "the Harrisburg Patriot-News published a newspaper article containing allegations that the Democratic Caucus of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives ('HDC') was misusing state funds by paying bonuses to HDC employees for the purpose of inducing them to participate in campaign activities and rewarding them for doing so," the complaint states.
Feese claims that Democrats were acquitted of "approximately 75 percent of the counts filed against them."
He claims that judges in the claims against Democrats "both recognized the legal distinction between transcripts of grand jury testimony on the one hand, and notes of witness interviews on the other hand."
But that wasn't so during "The Republican Case," Feese says in the complaint.
"During the investigation of the HRC [House Republican Caucus], the OAG [Office of the Attorney General], through the prosecutor defendants, presented 183 witnesses to the Grand Jury.
"In addition to these 183 witnesses, the OAG interviewed other witnesses who were not presented to the Grand Jury, and for whom notes of witness interviews were neither maintained nor transposed into the ROI [Record of Investigation].
"During interviews conducted by defendants, some OAG participants, including defendants Brown, Blessington ... and ... others, [the defendants] directed extraordinarily crude language at, and made specific threats, to the subjects of their interviews.
"These threats included assurances of prosecution upon failure to cooperate with defendants.
"These tactics were intended to coerce and intimidate witnesses into conforming their statements, and their subsequent grand jury testimony to the wishes, needs, and/or expectations of defendants.
"Several of the more important witnesses in the HRC investigation were interviewed more than once, and at least one witness met with defendants as many as 8 times.
"In succeeding interviews with the witnesses with whom defendants spoke to more than once, the behavior of the defendants referred to above diminished in proportion to changes in the witnesses' statements.
"Further enhancing the ability of the OAG to influence the statements made by, and the testimony received from interviewed witnesses was the virtually unprecedented use of immunity from prosecution offered by defendants to the interviewed witnesses for crimes which the defendants claimed the witnesses had committed.
"Almost every single person willing to 'cooperate' with defendants who requested immunity received it; those who were unwilling to 'cooperate' were charged.
"In these ways defendants engendered an extraordinary degree of fear among members and employees of the HRC, and thus were able to exercise control over, and otherwise effect, prospective trial witnesses to the detriment of Mr. Feese.
"It is believed, and therefore averred, that the shaping and evolution of these witnesses' testimony was documented in the interview notes.
"In all of these ways, witnesses were constrained to continue to accommodate the OAG by, among other things, forbearing from so much as speaking to the defendants or their attorneys in the 'Republican case.'
"The grand jury investigation of the HRC resulted in the return of presentments against ten defendants, and, on November 12, 2009, a criminal complaint was issued in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania against Brett 0. Feese."
Feese seeks punitive damages for destruction of exculpatory evidence, denial of a fair trial, denial of access to the courts, constitutional violations.
He is represented by Joshua Lock, with Goldberg Katzman, who also represents Seaman.