DISTRICT ATTORNEY Seth Williams yesterday charged Philadelphia-area state representatives Ron Waters and Vanessa Lowery Brown with bribery, criminal conspiracy and conflict of interest in connection to a grand jury probe into legislators taking envelopes full of cash in exchange for political promises.
Waters and Brown, both Democrats, were subjects of a grand jury investigation into the political dealings of various Pennsylvania elected officials that has already taken down some, including Sen. LeAnna Washington and former Philadelphia Traffic Court Judge Thomasine Tynes.
Williams found that Waters had accepted a total of nine cash payments during the course of the sting operation, totaling more than $8,700. Brown accepted about $4,000 from the confidential informant. Williams said both have come clean.
"The evidence was clear, convincing and caught on tape," he said.
"I take no glee out of today's announcement," the D.A. continued. "I respect the work and lives of both state reps, but they both made mistakes that they are now accepting responsibility for. They knew what they were doing. They knew it was criminal."
Both Waters and Brown surrendered to State Police in Dauphin County at 10:30 a.m. yesterday - though the alleged crimes took place in multiple counties, the majority happened there. Williams, who said he knows both politicians personally, said they were processed and released on their own recognizance.
The story doesn't stop there.
In the spring, Attorney General Kathleen Kane punted the case - which started under her direction in 2010 - to a Philadelphia investigating grand jury after her office found it not prosecutable.
Williams said Kane "cold-cased" the original investigation. He said she accused it of being racially motivated and deliberately targeting members of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus. Williams said Kane dropped the case at "precisely the point where the evidence was complete and compelling."
"If anything was flawed, it was the attorney general's work," he said yesterday. "As an African-American, as a law-enforcement official, I was disgusted that the attorney general would bring racism into this case. It's like pouring gasoline on a fire."
Mark Gilson, an assistant district attorney and director of Williams' Conviction Review Unit, during yesterday's news conference, called Kane's investigation "half-assed."
"She came up with a whole host of excuses as to why this was not a viable investigation or a viable prosecution," Gilson said. "We've debunked every single one of them."
In exchange for all the cash passed to Brown and Waters, the indictment alleges that Waters promised to vote against the voter ID bill, steer a collections contract toward a particular firm for the Philadelphia Parking Authority, and help the informant's friend get a job. Brown allegedly said she would do some of the same, including support privatization of the state liquor stores.
"He's begun the process of accepting responsibility for his conduct," said Fortunato Perri Jr., Waters' lawyer. "We're now exploring all options to try to resolve this matter without the necessity of a trial."
Representatives for Brown and Kane did not return calls seeking comment.