As expected, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams announced charges today against three Philadelphia Democrats — taking unusually personal shots at embattled Attorney General Kathleen Kane along the way.
Williams charged State Reps. Louise Williams Bishop and Michelle Brownlee — along with former State Rep. Harold James — with criminal conspiracy, bribery in official and political matters, conflict of interest, and failure to make required disclosures in statement of financial interests. Each surrendered Tuesday morning to Pennsylvania State Police.
“There are no free passes when it comes to political corruption,” Williams said at a Tuesday morning press conference. “You don’t get a pass just because you are a friend, or a member of my political party, or race.”
The cases all stemmed from Kane’s so-called “abandoned sting” — first revealed about a year ago — in which a series of Philly Democrats were caught on tape taking money and gifts (never reported on disclosure forms) from a confidential informant. Kane had declared the cases unprosecutable, and the sting itself “poorly conceived, badly managed, and tainted by racism.”
The charge of racism drew a sharp rebuke Tuesday from Williams, who now employs several former attorney general staffers who participated in the original investigation.
“To accuse investigators who now work for me, to accuse prosecutors who now work for me, to be racist, I think is gutter,” Williams said.
Asked for comment, a spokesperson for Kane did not respond directly to the insult. “Prosecutors exercise discretion all the time on the merit of pursuing a case,” Carolyn Myers said in an email. “Attorney General Kane supports the efforts of all district attorneys to obtain equal justice under the law.”
The feud aspects of the story threatened to overwhelm the actual charges Tuesday: Bishop was accused of accepting three cash payments totaling $1,500; Brownlee of accepting one cash payment of $2,000; and James of accepting one payment totaling $750.
Bishop declined to discuss the matter with the investigating grand jury; Brownlee and James each reportedly admitted to the grand jury they’d taken the money — in each case promising political cooperation and favors (read the full grand jury presentment below).
Two other Philadelphia state reps, Ron Waters and Vanessa Lowery Brown, were charged by Williams’ office in December with bribery, conspiracy and other offenses. Former Philadelphia Traffic Court Judge Thomasine Tynes has pleaded to conflict of interest.
Williams took a valedictory tone on Tuesday, but suggested that more indictments are possible.
“I cannot say now whether there will be more indictments. The case remains open, and the grand jury may or may not return for additional presentments,” he said.
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The full grand jury presentment is below.