The Nation's Pulse

Honey Queens and Government Crooks

Capitalism fails once again to attract the best and the brightest.

By 8.7.08

PITTSBURGH -- "There is no native criminal class except Congress," said Mark Twain.

In the Pennsylvania version of this criminal class, the latest storm cloud over our stable of thieves and incompetents in the state capital comes, appropriately, by way of Miss Rain Day, Angela Bertugli, the 2001 winner of the Rain Day beauty pageant in Greene County.

The Philadelphia Inquirer explains how Miss Rain Day ended up on the gravy train and being supported by our tax dollars after public servant Mike Manzo, former chief of staff to House Democratic Leader Bill DeWeese, spotted her in a bar in 2004.

"They shared drinks and then had a tryst in a car," reports the Philly paper. "The following year the beauty queen was given a state job as a researcher in a field office above a cigar store. By 2006, her salary jumped 42 percent to $30,000, plus she got a $7,000 bonus."

Bertugli, reports the Inquirer, "told investigators that she got her state job after having sex above a Pittsburgh cigar shop with Manzo."

Miss Rain Day's paycheck has now jumped to $45,344, plus a generous benefits package that empties the public coffers by another $10,000 per year. Every dime, of course, comes out of the taxpayers' pockets, not Mr. Manzo's.

The $45,344 doesn't count the price of any high-end cigars or any fancy overtime work that perchance ended up on the taxpayers' tab when Manzo and Bertugli might have discussed her "research" over some Crab Stuffed Maine Lobster and a few glasses of Chateau Ste. Michelle Chardonnay.

IN A BASICALLY no-work job that was created just for her -- Bertugli confessed to investigators that she had nothing to do for 70 percent of the time (and the tasks she performed during the other 30 percent of the time weren't exactly policy gems) -- the former beauty queen found time to pick up a Master of Public Administration at the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, as well as getting some hands-on experience in more local affairs.

Still employed by the state, Bertugli was transferred from her "office" above the city's South Side cigar shop to a "job" in Harrisburg after being accepted into law school at Widener University. Why is she still on the public payroll? "It would be wrong to take retribution against those who told the truth," explains Tom Andrews, DeWeese's press secretary. The truth, though, spilled out only after Bertugli was nabbed. That's not the type of truth-telling that generally allows criminals to escape retribution and to continue to pick the public's pocket.

DeWeese says Ms. Bertugli comes from good stock, from "one of the finest families among all of my acquaintances." Does that mean we don't get our money back?

Bertugli's supervisor in Harrisburg was Jennifer Brubaker, but she's now gone, suspended without pay after being charged with playing a role in the legislature's crooked bonus scheme.

Manzo is also gone, charged with conspiracy in connection with the bonus scandal and the misallocation of state workers in political campaigns, plus the tax-supported shenanigans with Ms. Bertugli.

MANZO'S LAWYER, Jim Eisenhower, says his client wasn't motivated by self-interest. "Anyone who believes that the allegations in this presentment were masterminded by Mike Manzo for his benefit are very naive," says Eisenhower. Imagine going to law school to learn how to make statements like that with a straight face. What, Manzo's sex-for-job swap wasn't in his self-interest? That was done for us?

DeWeese says that what happened right under his nose wasn't his fault. "No leader can be involved at that tactical level day in, day out and if you have many people -- there's just too many people," he said. "I'm not an investigative person."

One wonders if DeWeese would be more inquisitive, more careful with the dollars, more investigative, if it was his own money.

He's right, however, about too many people. The oversized collection of crooks and slouches in Harrisburg makes Pennsylvania the most expensive state legislature in the nation, and we still end up ranking 37th among the 50 states in job growth and 46th in population growth.

We pay the most, in short, and get the least. It's like paying a Mercedes price for a used Honda.

In the more competitive private sector, the market has a built-in and automatic mechanism for dealing with this kind of bad-as-I-wanna-be theft, arrogance, waste and mismanagement. It's why capitalism works and government doesn't.

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About the Author
Ralph R. Reiland is the B. Kenneth Simon professor of free enterprise and an associate professor of economics at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh.