State Rep. Leslie Acosta vowed Tuesday to remain in office and to continue her reelection campaign, even as leaders of her party - including Gov. Wolf - called for her to resign over the revelation last week that she secretly had pleaded guilty to federal felony charges earlier this year.
What's more, the North Philadelphia Democrat intends to launch a legal bid to keep her seat even after she is sentenced next year, her lawyer said.
"It is Rep. Acosta's intention to let the legal process run its course so she can continue to serve her constituency for as long as possible," attorney Christopher Warren said. "If the courts ultimately determine that she is unfit to hold public office, she will, of course, abide by that decision."
His comments came on a day when Wolf added his voice to the chorus of Democrats calling publicly and privately for Acosta to step aside.
"I don't think any public official who is guilty - pleaded guilty to corruption - should be in public life," the governor said, adding: "We need to be aboveboard, transparent, open, and honest. If we can't do that, we shouldn't be here."
Pressed to say whether she should be allowed to remain in office until the day of her sentencing, Wolf said: "No public official should be in office who is guilty of a crime."
Generally, the state constitution bars public officials from holding office if they have been convicted of felonies, a process that is not considered complete until a sentence is imposed. But Warren said Tuesday that Acosta had a convincing argument - which he declined to detail - that those restrictions should not apply in her case.
"Admittedly, it could go either way. However, she's entitled to present it to a court and let the court make that decision - not Bob Brady," he said, referring to U.S. Rep. Robert Brady, chairman of the City Democratic Committee, who earlier this week called for Acosta's immediate resignation.
Brady expressed frustration Monday that Acosta had not informed party leaders earlier of the case against her or her decision to plead guilty in March to one federal count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, details of which remain under a sealing order signed by U.S. District Judge Joel Slomsky.
Meanwhile, a source said top House leaders have begun to consider refusing to seat Acosta should she return to Harrisburg for a second term when the new, two-year legislative session begins in January - nine days before she is scheduled to be sentenced.
Details of case
Acosta - who is running unopposed for reelection in a district that includes Fairhill, Hunting Park, and parts of North Philadelphia - has not spoken about her case since the Inquirer first reported on it Friday.
She did not return to the Capitol on Monday as the House reconvened for the first day of its fall session, and she informed party leadership that she did not intend to return this week, a spokesman for the House Democratic caucus said.
The case against her involves an alleged embezzlement scheme involving Renee Tartaglione, scion of a Northeast Philadelphia political dynasty and Acosta's former boss at the Fairhill mental health clinic at which she worked prior to taking office.
Facing trial in November, Tartaglione is accused of embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Juniata Community Mental Health Clinic, a publicly funded facility she founded with her husband in 2002 to serve low-income patients.
According to court filings unsealed the day of Acosta's plea, she was charged with accepting checks from the clinic worth thousands of dollars between 2008 and 2012 for work she did not perform. She knowingly aided Tartaglione in her alleged theft by cashing the checks and kicking the money back to her former boss, according to the filings.
Sources familiar with the case say Acosta is cooperating with the government and could testify against Tartaglione at her trial.
Until then, Warren said, he has instructed the representative to make no statements about her legal woes.
The lawyer declined to discuss details of Acosta's case, except to point out that prosecutors had not accused his client of personally benefiting from her crimes and that they occurred years before she took office last year.
"Obviously, she has no control over what, if anything, her Republican adversaries in the House may or may not do," Warren said Tuesday. "Until she is sentenced, however, she is not disqualified from holding public office."