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Wednesday, June 19, 2024 | Back issues
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Fired for Telling the Truth, State Worker Says

HARRISBURG, Pa. (CN) - A former state worker claims in court that the Democratic Caucus fired her for speaking truthfully about the "Bonusgate" political corruption scandal.

Bonusgate resulted in indictments of Republican and Democratic state lawmakers and aides who were charged, and some of whom have been convicted, of using nearly $4 million in taxpayer money to create software programs to give them an advantage in elections.

Mary Ann O'Leary sued the Democratic Caucus of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, its former Majority Leader Todd Eachus and seven others, including Eachus's chiefs of staff Zane Phoenix and Laura Kuller, the caucus' chief legal counsel Nora Winkelman, three other officials in the Democratic Caucus, and state Rep. Frank Dermody's chief of staff Susan Schwab; all titles refer to the jobs held during the time in question.

O'Leary says she was hired as the Democratic Caucus's controller in September 1999, at a salary of $42,000 a year. By March 2010, she was earning $65,728 in the same job, according to her federal complaint.

O'Leary claims she was fired after she gave "extensive statements to investigators from the Office of Attorney and her testimony before the grand jury."

"An integral part of the activities underlying Bonusgate was the allocation of monies from the legislative caucuses, of which the Democratic Caucus was one, for the use of various members who would use such money for campaign work," the complaint states.

"Some improper expenditures by the Caucuses included payments to legislative staff for campaign work out of public monies and the use of public monies to acquire and maintain computer databases to assist incumbent members in campaigning.

"Prosecutions from the Bonusgate and related legislative investigations have resulted in guilty pleas or convictions of two former Speakers of the House, Jon Perzel and William DeWeese, Former Democratic Whip Mike Veon and several other high-profile elected officials and staff members."

O'Leary says that during the attorney general's Bonusgate investigations, she was "interviewed or called to testify before a grand jury a total of fourteen times."

She says the lawyer who represented her throughout her 14 interviews and grand jury appearances was provided and paid for by the Democratic Caucus, and it was well known that she was cooperating with the investigation.

O'Leary was fired on March 24, 2010. She says it was for her truthfulness and cooperation with the investigation.

The complaint states: "The decision to terminate plaintiff's employment was made collectively by defendants Winkelman, Phoenix, Kuller, Rissinger, Schwab, Lees and Reaves, each of whom personally participated in the decision that was used to terminate plaintiff's employment.

"Defendant Eachus personally authorized termination of plaintiff's employment.

"Plaintiff was terminated from her position in retaliation for exercise of her rights to speech and petition under the First Amendment including, without limitation, for testifying before the grand jury and for the content of her speech to investigators from the Attorney General's Office."

Defendants not defined above include Democratic Caucus Operative Division Director April Rissinger, O'Leary's immediate supervisor Patti Lees, and the Democratic Caucus's HR director Louise Reaves. Again, all titles refer to jobs held during the time in question.

O'Leary seeks lost wages and compensatory and punitive damages for retaliation and conspiracy to deprive her of constitutional rights.

She is represented by Aaron Martin, with Hoppe & Martin, of Kennett Square, Pa.

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