HARRISBURG, Pa. (CBS) –– Former Pennsylvania  House speaker John Perzel of Philadelphia could face up to 24 years in prison following his guilty pleas today on eight public corruption charges.

Perzel entered guilty pleas on two counts each of theft and conflict of interest, and four counts of conspiracy, becoming the highest-ranking state politician to admit guilt in the wide-ranging 4½-year probe dubbed “Bonusgate.”

Prosecutors said Perzel was at the center of a scheme to spend millions of taxpayer dollars on computer technology for the benefit of GOP political campaigns.

As part of the plea agreement, the sentences for the conspiracy charges will be concurrent with the other four.  Perzel could get up to 24 years in prison, though the standard minimum sentences would add up to between 18 and 50 months.

Prosecutor Frank Fina says Perzel’s cooperation, which is part of the deal, will be critical.

“I think whenever you have a member of the state government who had such a position as Mr. Perzel, if he was willing to cooperate with the Commonwealth, that’s significant,” Fina told KYW Newsradio today.

Several other defendants who were charged along with Perzel are still expected to go to trial.  In his appearance before a Dauphin County judge, Perzel agreed to cooperate with state prosecutors.
Fina says Perzel is also expected to forfeit his state pension.

Perzel and his attorney gave no comment to reporters as they left the courtroom, but in an e-mailed statement Perzel said he bore responsibility for improprieties in the spending of money he oversaw.

“It was up to me to see that taxpayer funds were spent only for the betterment of the people of Pennsylvania, and not for my political benefit of that of my party,” Perzel said in the statement.

He apologized to the people of Pennsylvania, his family, and friends, saying he wanted to “express my profound regret for my actions. You had a right to expect better from me, and I am sorry that I let you down.”

Reported by KYW Harrisburg bureau chief Tony Romeo