SCRANTON, Pa. (AP) â?? The former leader of Pennsylvania's Senate Democrats is due in court Friday to be sentenced in a public corruption case involving the misuse of his taxpayer-funded staff.
Robert Mellow, long one of the most powerful figures in state government, pleaded guilty last May to a federal conspiracy charge. Prosecutors are seeking at least two years in prison. His lawyers cite Mellow's background and status as a first-time offender in asking for a sentence of probation.
Prosecutors say Mellow used his own Senate staff and staffers for other Democratic senators to run political campaigns in violation of state law.
Mellow, who will be sentenced by a federal judge in Scranton, served 40 years in the state Senate and was among that chamber's most powerful members. He was the Senate's longest-serving member when he left two years ago after deciding not to run for an 11th term.
Mellow was the Democrats' floor leader for most of the last two decades he was in office, and his portrait hangs in the state Capitol because he served as the Senate president pro tempore for about 16 months from 1992 to 1994.
He announced in February 2010 that he would retire at the end of the year because he wanted to spend more time with his daughters and grandchildren. In June of that year, federal agents executed search warrants at his home and district office as part of a joint FBI-Internal Revenue Service investigation into allegations of illegal activity, an FBI spokesman said at the time.
A number of state lawmakers and their aides have been prosecuted in recent years for misusing public funds and resources for campaigns and other purposes. In the House, the attorney general's long-running Bonusgate investigation resulted in convictions against former Speakers Bill DeWeese and John Perzel, former Reps. Brett Feese and Mike Veon, and others. In the Senate, Jane Orie was convicted in state court, and Vince Fumo in federal court.
Mellow continued misusing Senate staff for political fundraising and campaign work even in the midst of the Bonusgate investigation, prosecutors noted in court documents this week, demonstrating a remarkable lack of respect, and even contempt, for the law.