State Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown’s sentencing of 23 months of probation in her bribery conviction last week should have been the end of a sordid story involving the convictions of four other lawmakers and a judge for taking bribes.
But since these convictions have changed nothing in Harrisburg, it’s a story that will keep getting written.
It’s also a story whose details beg for a new word for “irony.”
Brown was caught up in a sting operation pursued by former District Attorney Seth Williams' office after Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane decided not to pursue the case. The case, in which a government informant, Tyron B. Ali, offered cash and jewelry to lawmakers, netted convictions of Ronald Waters, Harold James, Louise Williams Bishop, and Michelle L. Brownlee, and Traffic Court judge Thomasine Tynes.
Brown’s sentence parallels the rest of her bribe-taking colleagues': all but one received probation. (Tynes’ jail time was concurrent with a federal sentence on an unrelated matter.)
Their crimes are some of the worst behavior we can expect from elected officials.
Brown apparently is feeling so good about her lack of jail time that she and friends are planning a celebration party, according to Inquirer columnist Jenice Armstrong, and has refused to step down from office. That is galling. So is the fact her sentence came a day after Kane reported to jail to serve a 10- to 23-month term.
You don’t have to be a supporter of Kane to wonder where the justice is in this story.
Kane also broke the law. It started when she declined to prosecute the case of these same sleazy lawmakers. It’s worth pointing out that she was exercising prosecutorial discretion, deciding which cases her office would go after. Her decision reportedly angered Frank Fina, one of the prosecutors who built the case while in the AG’s Office. He moved to Williams’ office, which took the case and won the convictions.
Kane leaked grand jury information to a reporter in an attempt to discredit Fina. She later lied about it. That’s the reason she’s in jail. (In a development that makes the word irony so weak, Williams is also in jail for accepting gifts, in a separate case.)
In the process of her battle with Fina, Kane uncovered thousands of pornographic emails sent by and received from prosescutors and other high-placed state officials, including Fina.
The emails were sexist, racist, and vulgar. State officials and two Supreme Court judges lost their jobs over the “Porngate” scandal.
In the case of Kane, the system worked. She resigned, and we duly elected a new AG.
The same cannot be said of the system of which Brown is part. Despite her conviction, she ran again for office in November and won easily, since neither party put up an opposition candidate. It remains to be seen what happens when the General Assembly starts its session in January.