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D.A. Williams: Kane made false statements about sting case

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane made repeated false statements to justify shutting down an undercover sting, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said Tuesday as he announced bribery charges against two lawmakers in the corruption case he revived.

Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane and Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams.
Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane and Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams.Read more

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane made repeated false statements to justify shutting down an undercover sting, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said Tuesday as he announced bribery charges against two lawmakers in the corruption case he revived.

Williams said Kane had irresponsibly and without evidence claimed that the investigation had been marred by racial targeting.

In fact, the district attorney said, a Philadelphia grand jury marshaled testimony and documents from within Kane's own office showing that her top aides rejected the idea that racial prejudice affected the case.

"As an African American and as a law enforcement official, I was disgusted that the attorney general would bring racism into this case," Williams said. "It's like pouring gasoline on the fire for no reason, no reason at all."

In blunt and often harsh language, Williams lobbed criticism after criticism at Kane, a fellow Democrat, as he detailed the criminal charges his office brought Tuesday against two Democratic state representatives ensnared by the sting.

Acting at the recommendation of the grand jury, Williams charged State Reps. Vanessa Lowery Brown, 48, and Ronald G. Waters, 64, with bribery and other offenses in a case that Kane had derided as "half-assed," "dead on arrival," and too flawed to be prosecuted.

He said both lawmakers admitted to grand jurors that they illegally pocketed cash from an undercover informant who was secretly taping them. Waters accepted $8,750 in nine payments, he said, and Brown accepted $4,000 in five.

In March, The Inquirer broke the news of the sting investigation and Kane's secret decision to end it. The newspaper reported that before Kane ended the probe in 2013, undercover operative Tyron B. Ali, a registered lobbyist who had been caught up in his own criminal case, had taped five Philadelphia officials accepting money or gifts.

Of the five, Williams has brought criminal charges against three, all of whom he has said have admitted criminal wrongdoing. Two more top city Democrats remain under grand jury scrutiny.

Williams lambasted Kane's secret move to end the sting without filing any charges - and without notifying the state Ethics Commission that the five had accepted cash and, in one case, a $2,000 silver Tiffany bracelet.

He said Kane ended the case either "out of pure incompetence, to gain political favor, or because of a grudge against other personalities."

Kane, in a statement Tuesday, defended her choice to shut down the investigation.

"Prosecutors disagree all the time on the merit of pursuing various cases, and Attorney General Kane supports the efforts of all district attorneys to obtain equal justice under the law," her office said.

Williams said Kane had to be forced through "judicial intervention" - a reference to unspecified action by the Philadelphia grand jury judge - to turn over critical evidence in the case.

He said it took months to obtain from her office a report critical of the investigation - one that his prosecutors said repeatedly misspelled the first name of Ali.

Assistant District Attorney Mark Gilson, who led the reinvestigation of the sting, said that report was meritless. "The only thing that was 'dead on arrival' or 'half-assed' was that report," he said.

In one of his most serious charges, Williams said one piece of evidence Kane cited to support her allegation of racial targeting did not exist.

At an April 10 news conference in Harrisburg, Kane said she had an affidavit in which one of her top agents attested to evidence of racial targeting. Williams said that was false. "I can tell you now, there were no affidavits," he said. "The evidence indicates that they never existed."

What Kane did produce, prosecutors said, was a memo - not a sworn affidavit - that raised the racial issue. It was dated April 14, four days after the news conference at which Kane said she had an affidavit.

"She had people create documents after she said she had them," said Gilson.

In the statement, Kane reiterated some of her criticism of the probe and noted that the investigation had been dormant for months before she took office in January 2013. Her statement made no mention of racial targeting.

Williams decided to awaken the case in the spring, after The Inquirer reported that Kane had secretly closed it. He acted in response to what amounted to a dare from Kane.

Along with Waters and Brown, three other Philadelphia Democrats were captured on tape accepting cash, money orders, or the bracelet, according to sources and investigative documents. They are State Reps. Michelle Brownlee and Louise Williams Bishop, and Thomasine Tynes, former president judge of Traffic Court.

Williams charged Tynes with bribery, conflict of interest, and other offenses last month. In a deal with prosecutors, she has agreed to plead guilty to conflict of interest charges.

The sting was launched by veteran prosecutor Frank G. Fina, who worked for Kane's predecessors. Kane and Fina have been locked in a bitter public feud over how a series of high-profile cases were handled, including the investigation of serial sex abuser Jerry Sandusky.

Kane is under grand jury scrutiny for allegedly leaking confidential information about a case Fina oversaw, in an attempt to raise questions about his work. Kane has admitted she knew about the release of the information, but said it was not improper.

Fina, who now works for Williams in the office's public corruption unit, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

In defending her decision to end the investigation, Kane has said the lead agent in the case had told one of her top aides that he had been directed to target members of the legislature's Black Caucus.

That agent, Claude Thomas, has said that never happened. Thomas, who is African American and who twice sued the Attorney General's Office over alleged discrimination, has said he would have rejected such a directive. He, too, now works for Williams.

Kane asserted that one of her agents had produced both notes and an affidavit attesting to Thomas' purported complaints of racial targeting.

But city prosecutors said no such notes nor any such affidavit existed. When asked to provide those documents, they said, Kane's office produced only the memo written four days after her remarks.

Asked about this and other issues in a detailed e-mail, Kane's spokeswoman replied: "We have no further comments."

Williams also said that a top lawyer in Kane's office, testifying in response to a subpoena, contradicted her assertions that the sting might have been racially motivated.

"There is absolutely nothing in the case file that would lead one to believe" that the sting targeted black elected officials, the lawyer testified, adding that he "never for one second believed" that allegation.

According to people familiar with the testimony, that lawyer was prosecutor Bruce Beemer, Kane's second in command.

Williams' office also obtained an e-mail exchange between "two high-ranking officials" in Kane's office, according to the grand jury. In the exchange, another of the attorney general's top aides wrote that "no legislator was entrapped," and that the office had "ample" reason to target those it selected as part of the sting. According to the grand jury report, the other aide agreed.

Those comments were made by former prosecutor Linda Dale Hoffa, who left the office in the fall, to Beemer, according to people familiar with the e-mails.

Neither Hoffa nor Beemer could be reached for comment Tuesday.

In a lengthy statement this spring, Beemer said he supported Kane's decision to end the probe. While detailing numerous objections to the sting, he did not mention racial targeting.

Williams also challenged another key Kane assertion: that Ali would have made an unreliable witness because he agreed to cooperate with state prosecutors only after being charged with defrauding a state food program of $430,000.

Kane said Ali had been offered "the deal of the century" with all charges dropped.

Williams said his grand jury had, in effect, reinvestigated that fraud case, subpoenaing documents and interviewing the agents who conducted the investigation of Ali.

He said that review found that Ali's theft was actually of less than $100,000.

The grand jury presentment called this a sum "sufficient to provide the leverage needed to gain his cooperation, but hardly so extreme as to justify dropping a major political probe at precisely the point where the evidence was complete and compelling."

Williams repeatedly rejected the suggestion that those targeted by the sting had been selected because they are black. He said each target had led to the next, in a chain of political ties that had nothing to do with race.

"They took money not because they were targeted, or tricked, or because of their race," Williams said. "They took it because they wanted the money."

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