FOR ALL the controversy surrounding the sting operation involving state House members from Philadelphia, several things remain clear: There are serious allegations that crimes were committed, bribes were taken and the public trust betrayed by elected officials.
Yet, Attorney General Kathleen Kane decided not to prosecute the case. As the Inquirer, which broke the story, explained, the reasons are complicated. Some of it had to do with prosecutors' queasiness over Tyron B. Ali, the "lobbyist" who agreed to wear a wire during his meetings with elected officials. Ali made a deal to act as state investigators' undercover operative after being arrested in a $430,000 fraud case.
Then there was conflict between the investigators who began their sting operation in 2011, when Republican Tom Corbett was attorney general, and Kane, a Democrat who took office in 2013. The lead investigator in the sting soon left, and not on good terms with the new attorney general.
The upshot is that the state will not prosecute. Seth Williams, the Philadelphia district attorney, says he cannot pursue the case. The Inquirer reported that the U.S. Attorney's Office will not, either.
The allegations involve wiretapped conversations that Ali had with Philadelphia state Reps. Ronald Waters, Vanessa Brown, Michelle Brownlee and Louise Bishop, who were not only wined and dined by the fake lobbyist, but also received anywhere from $1,500 to $7,650 in cash and money orders from Ali.
(A fifth official, former Traffic Court Judge Thomasine Tynes, also told Inquirer reporters that she received a Tiffany charm bracelet from Ali valued at $2,000.)
Just because there will be no criminal cases forthcoming should not mean an end to this matter. There is an entity that has clear jurisdiction over this case and should act: the state House of Representatives.
The House has purview over the actions of its own members. The state Constitution gives the Legislature the power to expel members for corruption upon a vote of two-thirds of House members.
The House also has an entity equipped to investigate these members: the Ethics Committee, chaired by Rep. Scott Petri, a Republican from Newtown, Bucks County.
The committee rarely issues notices of its meetings, or actions taken, which has led to charges over the years that it is mere window dressing to make it appear that the House polices its own members.
This time should be different.
The House should pass a resolution directing the Ethics Committee to investigate the cases. The committee should appoint a non-partisan special counsel, with experience as a prosecutor, to oversee the case. The committee has subpoena power, so it can demand access to evidence gathered. It can call the legislators implicated to testify under oath in private session.
If the committee finds that they acted improperly, it should make its finding public and move for an expulsion vote in the House. And those found to have betrayed the public trust should be expelled.
They will never face jail for their offences, but they should face the judgment of their peers and the penalties allowed by law. They certainly should not be allowed to continue in public service if they have so casually betrayed the people who elected them.