Philadelphia state senator to go to trial on corruption charges

     Voters also deserted Democratic state Sen. LeAnna Washington Tuesday in a three-way race. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

    Voters also deserted Democratic state Sen. LeAnna Washington Tuesday in a three-way race. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

    A Pennsylvania lawmaker accused of ordering her taxpayer-funded legislative staff to organize an annual campaign fundraiser will stand trial on political corruption charges.

    Democratic state Sen. LeAnna Washington is charged with conflict of interest and theft of services — both felonies — for allegedly spending thousands of taxpayer dollars to plan the elaborate “birthday party” event each July.

    During Wednesday’s preliminary hearing, Jamila Hall, a former paid intern and legislative aide for Washington, said she regularly spent “the majority” of her workday on the summer fundraiser at the direction of Washington.

    “There was nothing that was done or approved that the senator didn’t check off,” she said.

    Hall said she used senate computers and printers for invitations and processed checks made out to the Friends of LeAnna Washington political action committee.Aside from one or two meetings with catering companies, Hall said she did all of the work for the fundraiser at either Washington’s district office on Wadsworth Avenue in Philadelphia or Easton Road in Roslyn during the workday.

    Hall, granted immunity in exchange for her grand jury testimony, said she knew “from common sense,” that she was breaking the law, but refused to cross Washington because she feared she would lose her job.Following the hearing, Carolyn Myers, assistant press secretary for the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office, said “as shown in court today, the Commonwealth’s case against Sen. LeAnna Washington was a solid case for allegations of conflict of interest and theft of services.”Washington did not address reporters before riding away in a white BMW sedan.

    Her attorney, Henry Hockeimer, also declined comment. He has called the charges against his client “thin and specious.”

    Washington will be arraigned May 7, about two weeks before this year’s Democratic primary where she does face a challenge.It’s unclear if the ongoing case will hamper her re-election bid, said Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College. He said Washington might convince constituents to reserve judgment until the trial concludes.

    Or, she could win if voters simply don’t think the charges are egregious enough to give her the boot in the first place, he said.”I’m not justifying what she did, I’m merely pointing out that for some voters the actions that she’s been charged with may not seem as serious as it would if someone defrauded the government and pocketed the money themselves and therefore enriched their own livelihood,” said Madonna.

    Washington was first elected to represent the Fourth Senatorial District in 2005. She represents parts of Montgomery County and Philadelphia, including Chestnut Hill, Mt. Airy and Germantown.She was charged in mid-March following a yearlong investigation.

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