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Sources: Porn scandal misses Kane's main target

HARRISBURG - Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane's unprecedented move to expose the swapping of pornographic e-mails on state time has so far cost four men their jobs, put another at risk of being stripped of his state post, and left three others deeply embarrassed.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane and (Staff, file/ Michael Bryant and AP Photo/Bradley C Bower)
Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane and (Staff, file/ Michael Bryant and AP Photo/Bradley C Bower)Read more

HARRISBURG - Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane's unprecedented move to expose the swapping of pornographic e-mails on state time has so far cost four men their jobs, put another at risk of being stripped of his state post, and left three others deeply embarrassed.

All of them may be collateral damage.

So far, Kane has not landed a major blow on the man who sources say has long been her main target: former state prosecutor Frank Fina.

In fact, she's been muzzled from doing so.

The story behind the e-mails is far more tangled than what has become public: that eight men, all with ties to Fina, have been named by Kane as sending or receiving X-rated e-mails in a widening scandal that has also touched a state Supreme Court justice.

It involves a secret leak investigation, closed-door legal arguments, a protective order, and allegations of threats - all against a backdrop of a two-year battle between Kane and Fina that has become deeply personal, if not ugly.

Fina is a career prosecutor known for high-profile public-corruption cases at the Attorney General's Office. He now works for Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams.

Kane is the former assistant district attorney in Lackawanna County who emerged from political obscurity to become the first woman and Democrat elected as Pennsylvania's top prosecutor.

Both declined to comment for this story.

Numerous people with knowledge of their quarrel - including sources close to both - have said Fina participated in the exchange of X-rated e-mails.

According to the same sources, Kane was intent on making that fact public.

She wanted to expose what she believed was an entrenched misogynistic culture in the Attorney General's Office when Fina was a ranking prosecutor and before she took charge, people close to her say.

But in late summer, Fina obtained a ruling from a Montgomery County judge barring Kane from citing his name publicly in almost any fashion, according to several sources familiar with the ruling.

Judge William R. Carpenter, overseeing a grand jury in the eastern part of the state, granted the order after Fina argued to the judge that Kane's office was using the threat of tying him to the sexually explicit e-mails to intimidate and silence him and others, the sources said.

Fina cited an encounter in which he said a Kane aide had threatened his friend and former colleague Christopher Carusone, warning that if Fina kept criticizing Kane, "a lot people could get hurt," according to two people familiar with the allegation.

Sources close to Carusone say the aide, David Tyler, told him: "Tell your boy to stop" - words Carusone took as a threat against Fina.

Carusone and Tyler declined to comment for this article.

There is no dispute that the two men encountered each other in August in Harrisburg and discussed what was then the still publicly undisclosed cache of porn e-mails.

But a person close to Tyler rejected any suggestion he had threatened anyone. Instead, the source said, Tyler was trying to defuse tensions between the sides and complained that Fina had been exacerbating it by telling others the e-mails would implicate a wide circle of people.

Kane's allies have dismissed the allegation involving Tyler as false and an attempt by Fina to sully her as Carpenter, a Republican, presides over a grand jury investigation examining Kane and her aides.

The Inquirer has reported that Carpenter this summer appointed a special prosecutor, Montgomery County lawyer Thomas E. Carluccio, also a Republican, in a leak inquiry.

Carluccio is seeking to determine whether Kane's office improperly leaked grand jury material critical of Fina to the Philadelphia Daily News for a June story that raised questions about Fina's role in a case five years ago.

The leak inquiry carries high stakes: Any person who violates grand jury secrecy rules may be found guilty of contempt of court and sentenced to up to six months in prison.

Campaign criticism

Kane ignited the war in 2012, when she made a central theme of her campaign criticism of how Fina's team in the Attorney General's Office conducted the investigation into serial sex abuser Jerry Sandusky. She strongly suggested that Gov. Corbett - a Republican who as attorney general had been Fina's boss - ordered it slowed for political gain.

A review she later commissioned said Fina's team might have arrested Sandusky sooner, but found no evidence that politics played a role in the case.

Though the review failed to back up Kane's campaign rhetoric, it gave her a new and unexpected source of ammunition in the feud: Forensic computer work found that Fina, among dozens of others, had traded explicit photos and videos between 2008 and 2012 on state time on state computers.

The X-rated e-mails were among other messages that included jokes, cartoons, and political commentary. It was not illegal, but it was a violation of office policy.

The dispute between Kane and Fina escalated greatly in March when The Inquirer reported that Kane had secretly ended a sting investigation begun by Fina that sources said had caught five Philadelphia Democrats on tape accepting cash or gifts.

Kane called the sting "half-assed." Fina called her "embarrassing to law enforcement."

Throughout, Fina was publicly backed up in his defense of the Sandusky probe by old colleagues, including State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan, former top state prosecutor Richard Sheetz, and former agent Randy Feathers, the case's lead investigator.

All three later landed on the list of eight Kane named as having received pornographic e-mails while working in the Attorney General's Office under Corbett or other Republicans.

Also among them was Carusone, a prosecutor who, with Fina, was a key player in the Attorney General's Office's public corruption cases and who later became Corbett's secretary of legislative affairs.

The others she named were E. Christopher Abruzzo, who became Corbett's environmental secretary; Glenn Parno, a top lawyer for Abruzzo; Patrick Blessington, a former member of Fina's anticorruption team who now works with him as a Philadelphia prosecutor; and Kevin Harley, Corbett's onetime spokesman in the Attorney General's Office and Governor's Office.

The fallout since that Sept. 25 bombshell has been pronounced.

Abruzzo and Parno resigned their government positions the week after the e-mail release. Sheetz stepped down as a prosecutor in Lancaster County. Corbett has asked Feathers to give up his position on the state parole board, a demand Feathers has thus far ignored.

Last week, Carusone lost his job with a major Philadelphia law firm, though neither he nor the firm would discuss why.

Carusone's attorney, Robert J. Donatoni of West Chester, said Carusone could not speak to reporters because he was "cooperating with the special prosecutor."

Donatoni would not elaborate but did say:

"In my view and that of others, Chris has the reputation of being a first-rate lawyer and has paid an enormous price for his cooperation. Chris is hopeful that the entire truth about what happened to him and his family will be revealed through the legal process."

Noonan, whom Corbett appointed to head the state police, has kept his job. The governor said there was no evidence Noonan opened the sexually explicit e-mails.

And last week, Supreme Court Justice Ronald Castille urged his colleagues to take action after seeing e-mails that indicate Justice Seamus McCaffery had sent sexually explicit images to an agent in the Attorney General's Office and to McCaffery's brother, a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge.

Name is leaked

At one point, it appeared the long-rumored e-mail scandal might pass without notice.

Late in the summer, Fina had asked another judge, Norman A. Krumenacker, to block any release on grounds that the material was covered by the grand jury secrecy of the Sandusky case, sources said. After days of deliberation, the judge rejected Fina's argument.

Despite the rulings by Krumenacker and Carpenter, Fina's name leaked out anyway in media accounts of those who had viewed the e-mails.

Still, Kane's office seemed uncertain whether she would release anything.

On Sept. 23, in fact, her office gave The Inquirer and other newspapers a legal opinion stating that the retrieved e-mails and the information about them the papers had asked to see were not public records and that Kane was not legally bound to release them.

Two days later, Kane abruptly changed course and called in reporters to look at roughly 75 pornographic photos and videos.

The presentation lasted about 90 minutes.

In explaining why she singled out that group of eight for release, her office obliquely referred to constraints that blocked it from naming Fina.

"There are restrictions - upon which we cannot elaborate - which currently prohibit us from revealing the names of some other people who participated in this activity," a statement from her office read.

As many as 30 current prosecutors and agents also were in the porn e-mail loop, according to Kane's office. Her spokeswoman, Renee Martin, said that all faced discipline but that union contracts and state law mandated secrecy for those involved in disciplinary actions.

Summing up, Martin issued a statement saying the office was guided by certain basic principles of human relations management.

One such key, she said, was "respect for the reputations and privacy of current employees."