Former Pa. House Speaker Paroled From Prison

Former Pennsylvania House Speaker John Perzel was paroled Thursday morning after serving nearly two years in prison on a corruption conviction.
The Philadelphia Republican was released from Laurel Highlands Prison in western Pennsylvania, Corrections Department officials said.
Perzel, 64, pleaded guilty in 2011 to conspiracy, conflict of interest and theft charges as part of a plea deal that required him to cooperate with the prosecution of his former co-defendants.
He also was ordered to pay $1 million in restitution and will remain on parole, subject to certain restrictions and monitoring, through the end of his maximum prison term in April 2017.
Prosecutors said Perzel was the architect of an illegal scheme to pay millions of taxpayer dollars to out-of-state consultants who helped develop massive voter databases and customized software to give Republican legislative candidates an electoral edge.
He was one of 25 people connected to the House Democratic and Republican caucuses who were arrested in a corruption probe by the state attorney general's office. All but three of them -- 13 Democrats and nine Republicans -- were convicted or pleaded guilty.
Perzel represented a working-class district in northeast Philadelphia for three decades. He was first elected in 1979 and spent most of his tenure in GOP leadership, including his two terms as speaker, before voters ousted him in 2010 after he was charged with corruption.
Perzel was a pugnacious leader and formidable fundraiser.
But he seriously miscalculated public opinion in 2005 when, as speaker, he championed a government pay raise that lawmakers approved in the wee hours without a public hearing. At one point, trying to make a case for the bill, Perzel said some Philadelphia tattoo artists make more than legislators.
The bill boosted legislative salaries by as much as 54 percent and provided increases for senior executive branch officials and judges, prompting raucous protest rallies at the Capitol, an avalanche of editorial criticism and multiple legal challenges.
Lawmakers swiftly repealed the legislation after the unprecedented ouster of a Supreme Court justice on an up-or-down retention vote widely attributed to voter anger.
At the time, the base salary of a rank-and-file legislator was $72,187. This year, thanks to the cumulative effect of annual, automatic cost-of-living increases, the base is $84,012.
Perzel was ousted as speaker in early 2007 and, with heavy backing from the Democratic minority, replaced by fellow Philadelphia Republican Dennis O'Brien.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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