The Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity said Thursday that District Attorney Seth Williams should have dropped an investigation of five Philadelphia Democrats allegedly caught on tape taking bribes.
Williams announced last week that he was taking the case to a grand jury. Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane had dropped the investigation in 2013, calling it tainted by racism and overly reliant on an informant with a checkered past.
The Rev. Terrence Griffith, president of the Black Clergy, said in an interview late Thursday that the way the investigation was conducted - using an informant and soliciting the alleged corruption - represents a major problem in the justice system.
"There's a saying that if you want to convict the devil, you may have to go into hell to get a witness," Griffith said Thursday. "That's something the clergy is really unable to accept."
Griffith said that he did not know whether any crimes were committed, but that the use of an informant spurred "conduct that may or may not have ever taken place naturally."
Tasha Jamerson, a spokeswoman for the District Attorney's Office, dismissed the clergy's criticism.
"The job of this office is to investigate and prosecute crime," she said. "Doesn't matter if you're a shop owner in Fishtown or a cabdriver in South Philly or an elected official. It is our job to investigate it, no matter who you are."
Sharif Street, an attorney for the clergy, said the high-profile nature of this case makes it ideal for raising awareness about what they see as an immoral practice in prosecution.
"We're not saying that this investigation was conducted in an inconsistent manner with daily practices or that the parties may or may not be guilty," Street said. "The public has been reading and talking about how this investigation was conducted, and whether those methods are appropriate."
The sting began before Kane's tenure. Investigators said four state legislators and a Traffic Court judge were recorded taking payoffs from Tyron B. Ali, a lobbyist-turned-undercover-operative.