HARRISBURG, Pa. — A state lawmaker who was secretly charged by federal prosecutors nearly a year ago was a no-show in Harrisburg on Monday as lawmakers returned to session in the state Capitol for the first time since her criminal case came to light.
Top House Democrats said they knew nothing of Rep. Leslie Acosta’s case before reading a Philadelphia Inquirer story about it three days ago, and House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, said Monday he had yet to speak with Acosta about her case.
But, Dermody said, even if Acosta has pleaded guilty, she could still serve as a regular voting member of the House until her sentencing, under House rules.
“This is really unfortunate,” Dermody said. “Leslie has been a great member.”
House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, has not sought answers about the Acosta case, including whether she pleaded guilty, staff aides said. Turzai himself would not answer a question about whether he saw any sort of ethical conflict for a lawmaker to cast votes while secretly facing charges or having pleaded guilty.
However, some rank-and-file Republicans said they do believe it presents a serious ethical problem for the House as an institution.
“We feel it reflects on all of us,” said Rep. Jesse Topper, R-Bedford.
Records in Philadelphia’s federal court show a money-laundering conspiracy charge was filed last November against the Philadelphia Democrat, along with a five-page narrative accusing her of aiding a scheme to embezzle hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Philadelphia mental health clinic that serves Medicaid patients.
The charging document was quietly unsealed after a still-secret plea document was filed March 4. Her charges remained a secret until Friday, when the Inquirer first reported them, and it remained unclear Monday whether she had pleaded guilty.
Acosta is running unopposed for a second term in the Nov. 8 election and would have to petition a judge if she wants to remove her name from the ballot, a state elections bureau spokeswoman said.
Since March 4, Acosta has been counted present for 37 of 40 voting sessions during which more than 400 floor votes were cast on resolutions, bills, motions and amendments, including major budget legislation and legislation to legalize medical marijuana. Even though she was absent Monday, she was still recorded as casting a couple votes, and a House Democratic spokesman said he did not know who pushed Acosta’s button to vote for her.
Neither Acosta nor her lawyer returned calls. The U.S. attorney’s office in Philadelphia declined to comment Monday.
Acosta’s case brings to four the number of sitting state lawmakers — all Democrats — who are facing criminal charges. At least 10 current or former Pennsylvania state lawmakers have been charged since the beginning of 2014.
Associated Press reporter Mark Scolforo in Harrisburg contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to say Frank Dermody’s party affiliation is Democratic, not Republican.