HARRISBURG - State Rep. Michelle Brownlee pleaded guilty yesterday in a cash-for-favors investigation, the fourth elected official from Philadelphia to admit having broken the law in dealing with an informant who secretly recorded their exchanges.
Brownlee pleaded guilty in Dauphin County court to a single count of violating the state conflict-of-interest law, was sentenced to 18 months of probation and resigned her seat in the state House.
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, whose office prosecuted her, said what Brownlee did "darkens the stain of political corruption on the city of Philadelphia."
Brownlee, 59, was accused of accepting $2,000 from an undercover informant posing as a lobbyist who was seeking to influence her votes on behalf of nonexistent clients. She had been charged in March with bribery, conflict of interest, conspiracy and failing to report the gift on her financial disclosure statements.
She will not automatically lose her state pension.
Williams took up the case after Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who inherited it from the prior administration, called it badly flawed and abandoned it.
The investigation had been a secret and all of its records sealed until the Inquirer reported in March 2014 that Kane's office had decided against pursuing it.
It was impossible to prove that the lawmakers had done something illegal, Kane and her aides said. In addition, investigators had targeted black lawmakers without cause, Kane said. All of the defendants are black, as is Williams.
After a six-month grand jury investigation, Williams began filing charges in October. He has said that neither he nor the grand jury found evidence of racial targeting in the case.
So far, Williams' office has won guilty pleas from two other former Philadelphia lawmakers, Ron Waters and Harold James, and a former Philadelphia traffic court judge, Thomasina Tynes. Waters, like Brownlee, resigned after pleading guilty; James retired from the House in 2012.