HARRISBURG (KDKA) – State. Rep. Bill DeWeese was found guilty on five counts of theft, criminal conspiracy, and conflict of interest.
“The jury has rendered its verdict. It is a disappointment. It is a major determination in the criminal justice system and there’s just no downplaying it,” commented Bill Costopoulos, DeWeese’s attorney after the verdict.
DeWeese was found guilty of using taxpayer paid state employees for political work on government time — charges DeWeese and his attorney disputed from the beginning and now will appeal.
“I certainly have faith as the protocols of the ensuing weeks go forward, the appellate tribunals will give me every opportunity for Mr. Costopoulos and I to make our case,” DeWeese told reporters outside the courtroom.
In DeWeese’s hometown of Waynesburg, Greene Ccounty, most folks are very supportive of the man who’s represented them in Harrisburg for 35 years.
“He’s a very upstanding guy,” says Travis Lemley of Clarksville, “I’ve known him personally. He’s never done anything to my family that makes me feel that he’s guilty, so I think they made an incorrect call on this one.”
It’s a common sentiment out on the streets in the shadow of the Greene County courthouse, as KDKA Political Editor Jon Delano found out when he talked to Tracey Rhodes of Carmichaels.
Delano: “Are you surprised?”
Rhodes: “Yes I am. Very surprised.”
Delano: “Has he been a good state representative for this area?”
Rhodes: “Yes he has. Very good.”
And some think losing him will be costly.
“He has brought a lot of money into the area, and we’ve really enjoyed having the perks that he has brought to us,” notes Mary Ann Dispenza of Waynesburg.
But others say DeWeese’s employees may have campaigned on state time.
“I’m not sure on that one, but I’ll tell you what — there were a lot of people out on times of the day when it was work hours,” notes Jon Bunch of Waynesburg.
DeWeese asserted that a local jury of his peers would have found differently in this case.
“A western Pennsylvania — Greene, Fayette, Washington County — jury would have found me innocent,” DeWeese insists.
And DeWeese did not back away from another election here.
“I believe in the court of public opinion I will be favorably received to some substantial degree. That’s up to the voters. But I will certainly continue to run for re-nomination and re-election.”
It’s an announcement his constituents in his southwestern PA district have already seen in the local papers — and comes as DeWeese’s attorney announces further legal action.
“We are going to go forward,” says Costopoulos. “The process is not over until it’s over. We are going to have the appellate courts review everything. My guess is that will take nine months.”
Going forward for DeWeese means staying in office.
Support for the long-term, 61-year old legislator is so strong here in his home county of Greene that some say they will vote for him again if his name is on the ballot this year.
“Even though he’s been convicted, I’d probably still vote for him because he’s done a lot for Greene County,” says Bill Whitlach of Rogersville.
There’s a strong loyalty for Deweese, says Travis Lemley of Clarksville.
Lemley: “He’s got my vote already.”
Delano: “Even if he’s in jail?”
Lemley: “He’s still got my vote.”
But Article II, Section 7, of the State Constitution states: “No person hereafter convicted of embezzlement of public moneys, bribery, perjury, or other infamous crime shall be eligible to the General Assembly.”
And the House — on two-thirds vote — could expel DeWeese once he’s sentenced in late April.
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