Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane on Sunday blasted a long and detailed Philadelphia Inquirer story reporting she had abandoned a sting operation—started under her predecessor—that had caught several Democratic Philadelphia-area state legislators on tape accepting cash gifts. No one was charged in operation. Kane, also a Democrat, responded that the case had been “botched” and even racist in scope, adding that even federal officials had refused to prosecute the cases.
Kane responded to a lengthy story in The Philadelphia Inquirer on Sunday that disclosed the investigation, arguing that the case came to her in fatally flawed form and noting that her own office, an unnamed federal agency and the county prosecutor in Harrisburg all considered the case too weak to prosecute.
Kane told The Associated Press during an hour-long interview in her Harrisburg office that the investigation had become stale by the time it was handed over to her when she took office early last year.
Kane said she asked Bruce Beemer, one of her top aides, to review the case. He concluded that prosecuting the case was not advisable because the informant got an "extraordinary and lenient" deal that would hurt his credibility, because the secret tapes he made were the only evidence, and because the agent who worked with the informant told others he was told to focus on the black caucus.
The statement released by her office was more tart:
The allegations made by several cowardly anonymous sources in today's Philadelphia Inquirer paint an inaccurate and sensational version of the details and timeline of events related to Case File No. 36-622. The real truth is that this investigation was not only deeply flawed, but unraveled long before I was elected and then took the oath of office.
"My record speaks for itself that prosecutions have no political agenda. Of the 11 public corruption cases we have brought so far, the majority involve Democrats. I will not sit back and allow lies from those who seek to destroy the public's trust in me or my office."
One problem, she said: The informant in the case, a lobbyist named Tyson B. Ali, had done the work for investigators and had his own fraud charges — involving $430,000 worth of money — secretly dropped. "when prosecutors dismissed more than 2,000 serious charges of fraud that alleged their informant stole $430,000 meant for poor children and seniors, they crippled the chance of this case succeeding in prosecution," she said in the statement."
The Daily News' John Baer zeroes in on the legislators who reportedly took the money:
All we get for who-knows-how-much spent are sitcomlike responses to the Inky from the pols named as paid.
Rep. Ron Waters (allegedly $7,650 from Ali): "He never gave me anything."
This was amended to: "I'm trying to remember if he gave me something for my birthday."
Rep. Vanessa Brown (allegedly $4,000; taped saying, "Ooowe … thank you twice"): "I would like to not say anything at all."
Rep. Louise Bishop (allegedly $1,500): "I wish I could help. Never met him … I really don't know who he is."
Rep. Michelle Brownlee (allegedly $3,500): "I don't recall taking any money from him."
Former Traffic Court chief Thomasine Tynes, already facing charges related to ticket-fixing (allegedly a $2,000 charm bracelet): first said she mailed it back to Ali, then said she found it in her safe-deposit box, later said she needs to talk with her attorney about what to do with it.
At NewsWorks, writer Jan Ting comments:
Kathleen Kane has to publicly defend and explain her handling of this sting operation which she inherited from her predecessor, Republican Tom Corbett, now the Governor of Pennsylvania. If she can do so successfully, she has a bright future in politics.
But if she can't explain herself convincingly, her political opponents will have a big issue to hold against her that feeds into the stereotype, and maybe the reality of political corruption in the city of Philadelphia. Kathleen Kane must run for re-election in two years, and that challenge just got harder for her.
Nobody's going to talk about the real losers here, people who are also predominantly black, but predominantly poor as well. They are the citizens who are "represented," atrociously, by the likes of Ronald Waters, Vanessa Brown, Michelle Brownlee and Louise Bishop. They live in neighborhoods that are devastated by high crime, by payday lenders and other vultures, by schools that have been left for dead by the political elites, and by a lack of job opportunities, especially ones that pay a living wage. These voters need representatives who will fight for them every second of the day — not hand-picked handmaidens of a corrupt political machine scurrying for envelopes of illicit cash or a Tiffany bracelet. When the dust from this eventually settles, political careers will be made or broken — but the people in Philadelphia's poorest neighborhoods will still lack a real voice in our so-called democracy.
That is the greatest crime of all, and it is the one that none dare prosecute.