Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane's former security chief was convicted of contempt of court Tuesday after a judge found that he violated a court order by surreptitiously reading colleagues' emails in an effort to learn about the criminal investigation of his boss.
Patrick Reese violated a protective order that barred the Attorney General's Office from retaliating against witnesses in the grand jury investigation of Kane, Judge William R. Carpenter ruled.
Reese, 48, of Dunmore, Pa., could face up to six months in jail for the crime. Montgomery County Deputy District Attorney Thomas W. McGoldrick said prosecutors had not yet decided whether to seek jail time in the case.
Reese said Tuesday that he was "disappointed" in the verdict and declined further comment. His lawyer said he plans to appeal.
Prosecutors said Reese went into the computer servers in the Attorney General's Office and secretly accessed the emails of other Kane staffers. They said Kane had ordered Reese to snoop in an effort to learn about a state grand jury investigation of her.
During the two-day hearing, prosecutors presented evidence that Reese entered search term after search term, including Carpenter's name, in a bid to ferret out emails that shed light on the criminal inquiry involving his boss.
Kane was eventually charged with perjury, conspiracy, and other crimes for allegedly leaking confidential documents to embarrass a foe.
Kane has pleaded not guilty and vowed to remain in office despite calls for her resignation.
In September 2014, prosecutors said, she lamented in an email that the protective order prevented her from investigating leaks to the media about the grand jury inquiry. Days later, they said, she asked Reese and another aide to search for the source of the leak.
But Reese's search went beyond that, prosecutors said. He left an electronic footprint of his snooping for emails that included grand jury subpoenas, scheduling notes on grand jury testimony, and even the identity of a grand juror, they said.
During Reese's two-day trial, his lawyer, William Fetterhoff, contended that Reese had not known about the protective order. He also said there was no evidence that his client had actually read the emails in question, only that he had opened them.
McGoldrick called that suggestion "utterly laughable." In fact, he said, Reese's searches yielded results that included messages explaining the protective order in detail.
The prosecution's case included testimony from five senior employees of the Attorney General's Office, including David Peifer, an agent who also searched the private email servers. Peifer assisted prosecutors in their case against Reese - and their case against Kane - and was granted immunity from prosecution.
Reese, the former police chief of Dunmore, a small borough outside Scranton, is a longtime Kane confidante and a member of her shrinking inner circle.
The onetime bodyguard and driver for Kane was reassigned as an agent with the attorney general's Bureau of Narcotics Investigation after he was charged this year, Kane spokesman Chuck Ardo said.
He continues in his $99,658-a-year post despite an internal policy that calls for the suspension of employees charged with crimes involving their official duties.
Policy also calls for employees to lose their jobs once they are convicted of a crime, but Ardo said Reese plans to challenge that in an effort to prevent his dismissal. Ardo described the move as unusual, but said the Attorney General's Office did not intend to take action against Reese until the legal challenge is resolved.
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