Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Ex-Pa. House leader: Prosecutors linked to porn emails are hypocrites

DeWeese says those who got him sent to prison for theft of services are guilty of the same thing.

Bill DeWeese (left) says Frank Fina (right) was up to his own email shenanigans while prosecuting DeWeese’s use of government email for campaigning.
Bill DeWeese (left) says Frank Fina (right) was up to his own email shenanigans while prosecuting DeWeese’s use of government email for campaigning.Read moreAssociated Press file photos

IT WAS LATE 2009. Then-state Rep. Bill DeWeese sat in a conference room at the Attorney General's Office in Harrisburg filled with investigators and prosecutors.

Frank Fina, a lead prosecutor on a series of political-corruption scandals that would rock Harrisburg and ultimately would send DeWeese to prison, had breasts on his mind.

Fina asked DeWeese whether he knew that one of his legislative staffers had used an illegal $5,000 bonus to get a " 'tit job,' " according to DeWeese, a Democrat who served as House speaker and majority whip.

" 'No, sir,' " DeWeese said he told Fina. DeWeese's defense attorney, Walter Cohen, also attended the meeting.

In an interview with the Daily News, DeWeese said that Fina then cupped his hands under his rib cage and declared, " 'That's the only good thing that ever came out of Bonusgate: At least the Pennsylvania taxpayers got a great set of tits.' "

Fina and the other men in the room broke out in smiles, according to DeWeese.

Indeed, while pursuing Bonusgate, Fina thought a lot about breasts - but apparently he didn't think much of women. He used his state email and computer to send pornographic and misogynistic emails to colleagues who worked for then-Attorney General Tom Corbett - a scandal now known as Porngate.

At 4:01 p.m. Thursday, May 21, 2009, Fina sent an email to state special agents Anthony Fiore and Michael Cranga containing four images of women engaged in sex acts on men, depicted in mock motivational posters. The pornographic photos have slogans including: "WILLINGNESS: Bend over backwards to do an exceptional job," "DEVOTION: Making your boss happy is your only job" and "PERFORMANCE: Monthly performance evaluations are mandatory for all secretarial staff."

Fina sent that email - and many others like it - during the same year when he was investigating DeWeese and legislative staffers for doing campaign work on state time with state resources - a crime called theft of services, one of the charges of which DeWeese was convicted.

Now, in the wake of last summer's public release of Fina's emails, a suggestion of hypocrisy has crept into the criminal case against DeWeese, who has filed a motion for post-conviction relief.

'It's pretty sick'

"[Fina] was saying that we were exchanging political emails on state time and that it was illegal," said Melissa Frameli, a former DeWeese legislative staffer. "It's pretty sick that they were doing the same thing that they were screaming at us for - and our emails were related to political work, they weren't degrading toward women or towards men, they weren't pornographic in nature."

Frameli recalled that Fina was fixated on her personal relationship with DeWeese's chief of staff, Michael Manzo, and whether she had spent her bonus money on a "boob job." He accused her of "whoring around," unleashing a string of profanity and "F-bombs," she said.

"He completely made me feel like a low-life scumbag," Frameli recalled. "He was completely putting me down and saying I was going to get in trouble for sleeping with my boss. Screaming at me, and saying that I used my bonus to get a boob job and that I was a disgrace, basically . . . I felt very degraded by him. I felt very degraded as a woman. I think he has no respect for women whatsoever."

Fina, now a city prosecutor for District Attorney Seth Williams, declined to comment yesterday. Williams' spokesman, Cameron Kline, said Fina is not "taking any questions from the media."

Sensitivity training

Fina and two other former state prosecutors who were implicated in hundreds of graphic emails released in August - Pat Blessington and Marc Costanzo - now work for Williams and participated in sensitivity training Nov. 20 along with other staffers in the District Attorney's Office. Williams has refused to fire Fina, Blessington and Costanzo, asserting that the offensive emails were not sent or received in his office on his watch.

In a news release Nov. 23, Williams said that staffers attended a full-day training seminar given by Paul Meshanko, president and CEO of Legacy Business Cultures.

Meshanko deemed the training a success.

"By exploring how blind spots, stereotypes and biases can lead to inappropriate actions and behaviors, both consciously and unconsciously, I believe the entire group is now much more aware of steps they can take to minimize the degree to which subtle demonstrations of sexism, racism and/or homophobia can taint the otherwise outstanding work done by your office," Meshanko said a statement.

Fina's emails were anything but subtle.

*  On Jan. 21, 2009, at 3:11 p.m., Fina sent another round of mock motivational posters to special agents and prosecutors, including Senior Deputy Attorney General Anthony Krastek. Many of the images depicted women with large breasts, with slogans like, "BOOBS: What more motivation do you need?," "EPIC BOOBS: Can turn heterosexual females into lesbians in 0.39 seconds," "HALLOWEEN: Giving girls an excuse to dress like whores since 1983," and one image of a woman dressed like a nun exposing her breasts, with the slogan, "NUNS: They have tits too."

* On May 27, 2009 at 12:43 p.m., Fina sent out an email, subject line "Banana split," featuring more than a dozen graphic photos of two women engaged in sex acts, some with a banana.

Just 2 questions

Three months later, on Aug. 27, Sheilah Novasky, at the time DeWeese's chief of staff in his district legislative office, met Fina for the first time, she said. Waiting to testify before a grand jury in the state's case against DeWeese, she sat in a small room with seven men including Fina.

Fina wanted to know only two things: How many women on DeWeese's staff were sleeping with Manzo? And did she know about Frameli's "breast enhancements"?

She then went before the grand jury. Fina asked her nothing about breasts or Manzo's sexual relationships, she said.

"I think it was for their own amusement," Novasky said. "There is a line between intimidation and interrogation and they crossed the lines whenever they concentrated on the sexual antics, which had nothing to do with Bill DeWeese. If Bill was being charged with Bonusgate, I could understand it, but this was about DeWeese and theft of service."

In exchange for immunity, Novasky testified against her boss, DeWeese. She recalls testifying that the line between legislative and campaign work got blurry because state representatives are elected to two-year terms, so every other year is a campaign year. Inevitably, campaign work and legislative work would meld together, she testified.

Some of Fina's emails mix crass and crude comments about women with legitimate work topics. For instance, in an Aug. 2, 2010, email from Fina to Special Agent Robert Gift, with the subject line "I Love tennis (NSFW)" - meaning Not Safe For Work - Fina attached images of pro tennis player Simona Halep, who got a breast reduction in hopes of playing better tennis. Gift replied to Fina: "Damn that is nice. Are you going to be available tomorrow while I interview ADA Shaffer and possibly the DA about the Judge Pratt thing (just in case they have any questions)?"

'Stupendous hypocrites'

Novasky, 62, of Masontown, Fayette County, said she believes that the emails represented a breach of ethics and professionalism.

"The state was not being served the moment they took the time out of their day on a state computer to send pornographic info back and forth," Novasky said. "How did the state benefit from that? That's what they said to us: 'The state didn't benefit from you going to do campaign work.' "

In December 2009, Corbett, as attorney general, announced charges against DeWeese for "misuse of public resources and employees for campaign purposes." The grand jury found that DeWeese gained "a private monetary advantage" when he directed state workers to campaign at taxpayers' expense.

Corbett cited emails sent from House Democratic Caucus computers that revealed fundraising efforts. A Dauphin County jury convicted DeWeese on charges of theft, conspiracy and conflict of interest. A judge sentenced him to 30 months to five years in prison and imposed $25,000 in fines and restitution. DeWeese was paroled in March 2014 after serving nearly 23 months in state prison.

DeWeese, 65, reflected in an interview last week on the emails traded among top prosecutors under Corbett's nose.

"I thought, 'What stupendous hypocrites . . . ,' " DeWeese said. "They were using state computers on state time to unleash hate, pornography and racism . . . . They should look in the mirror."

Peter Vaira, a former federal prosecutor and U.S. attorney in Philadelphia, said he believes that a case could be made against Fina and others at the center of Porngate for theft of services, regardless of any financial gain or advantage.

"There is a loss and who is the loss - the citizens - they are having their money spent for people sending dirty pictures to each other," said Vaira, now with a Center City law firm. "Sending a bunch of emails in a pattern over a period of time, it's possible that a good [outside] prosecutor would look very hard at that."

On Twitter: @wendyruderman