Convicted Northeast Philadelphia Rep. and one-time GOP Speaker of the House John Perzel won an appeal before the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania over $1 million in court-ordered restitution.
The recent court order, stemming from a two-year-old appeal, remands the case back to Superior Court for resentencing. Perzel is the first pol who pleaded guilty to corruption charges to have his court ordered restitution tossed since a landmark appeal in 2016 overturned a fellow state rep's conviction on similar charges. He is unlikely to be the last.
Perzel pleaded guilty in 2011 to felony conspiracy and conflict of interest charges stemming from an illegal campaign operation, receiving jail time and was ordered to pay back over $1 million to the commonwealth. Similar penalties were doled out by judges in dozens of other state corruption cases, including, crucially, that of convicted state Rep. Mike Veon.
Veon won a 2016 appeal that granted the once-powerful Democrat a new trial some four years after his own conviction on nearly identical charges. But that decision also determined that a judge in his original trial erred by layering on $1.9 million in court-ordered restitution on top of state sentencing guidelines.
Joel Sansone, lawyer for both Perzel and Veon, said today’s ruling is an outgrowth of that decision.
“The Veon case ruling that said people cannot be sentenced to pay restitution when the ‘victim’ is the commonwealth,” he said. “They were convicted of breaking the law and sentenced to jail time, but the judge went beyond the guidelines on this one by ordering restitution.”
Sansone said that he expected the Superior Court would resentence Perzel to time served – minus restitution – bolstering the case for dozens of former pols caught up in the so-called “Bonusgate” and “Computergate” scandals to have tens of millions of dollars in restitution dropped from their sentences.
“It affects all of the defendants in all of those cases,” he said. “I don't want to be presumptuous and say what court will or won’t do, but there isn't much of a question here. It’s pretty clear.”
Nearly two dozen pols were caught up in those affairs, which began to unfold in 2007.
Sansone said the Legislature had ample opportunity to increase penalties for similar corruption charges to include restitution, but had failed to do so. The lawyer argued that jail time was punishment enough.
“Mr Perzel and others have paid their debt to society,” he said.