THANK GOODNESS District Attorney Seth Williams decided to pick up the pieces of a corruption case dropped by Attorney General Kathleen Kane.
When she took office last year, Kane inherited the results of a sting operation that netted a group of state legislators for allegedly taking bribes. The new attorney general wanted nothing to do with the case, saying it was "dead on arrival," was hopelessly flawed and raised the possibility it was motivated by racial prejudice. (The legislators involved were black Democrats from Philadelphia.)
Enter Philadelphia D.A. Seth Williams. Williams wasn't afraid to take the challenge - a literal dare from Kane to investigate - and to pick up the case Kane had dumped. He convened a grand jury that evaluated the evidence so carefully compiled by investigators.
As a result, Williams this week announced bribery charges against two legislators caught in the sting: Rep. Ronald G. Waters, 64, whose district includes parts of Southwest Philly, and Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown, 48, whose district includes a wide swath of West Philadelphia.
Williams said Waters and Brown were taped accepting bribes from a flimflam man turned government informer, Tyron Ali, who made the rounds in Harrisburg posing as a lobbyist wearing a wire and video cam and carrying envelopes of cash.
Waters is charged with taking a total of $8,750, including a $2,000 "birthday gift" hand-delivered in an envelope by Ali. Brown, head of the legislative Black Caucus, is charged with taking five payments that totaled $4,000.
Williams said that both legislators admitted to taking the money in testimony before the grand jury. Both have surrendered to authorities in Harrisburg and are expected to broker plea agreements, whereby they admit to their crimes but avoid a felony conviction. Legislators convicted of felonies cannot collect their state pensions.
We think it's time to broaden the circumstances under which crooked lawmakers lose their pensions. Recently, state Sen. LeAnna Washington pleaded guilty to conflict of interest charges, and cut a deal allowing her to keep her pension.
Earlier last month, Williams also charged former Traffic Court Judge Thomasine Tynes in the same case. She pleaded guilty to taking a $2,000 Tiffany bracelet from Ali and was sentenced yesterday in Common Pleas Court to up to 23 months in prison.
Williams said his investigation was continuing into two other legislators implicated in the sting, Reps. Louise Bishop Smith and Michelle Brownlee.
What could these people be thinking? Well-paid, and certainly not overworked, Waters and Brown were sent to Harrisburg to do the people's business, not sell out for baubles or a small wad of cash. Their actions were corrupt and petty and did a disservice to the people they were elected to represent, with their cynical "what's in it for me?" attitude.
What's in it for them - or so we hope - is time in jail.
The D.A., who is African-American, also debunked the theory that the sting was racially motivated "They took the money not because they were targeted, or tricked or because of their race," the D.A. said. "They took it because they wanted the money."