- Associated Press - Monday, March 17, 2014

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - About eight people accepted a total of more than $20,000 during an election law, bribery and ethics investigation aimed at black state lawmakers from Philadelphia that has since been abandoned by state prosecutors, the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office said Monday.

Attorney General Kathleen Kane said she had no way to force the return of the taxpayers’ money because the case was deemed too flawed to prosecute, meaning there is no prospect for restitution.

“We believe that certain legislators were taking money, and that’s a crime,” Kane said at a news conference a day after the investigation was first disclosed by The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The newspaper identified four Philadelphia lawmakers and a city judge who it said received gifts or money from a confidential informant supervised by the attorney general’s office before Kane took office in January 2013. The attorney general’s office said the informant made 113 recordings of state lawmakers and others public officials from the Philadelphia area.

Kane says the investigation she inherited could not have been prosecuted because the informant had been given a deal to have his own unrelated charges dropped and because of concerns that black lawmakers may have been targeted based on their race.

“They were told to focus only on the black caucus,” Kane said.

In a document released Monday, the attorney general’s office said the agent who supervised the informant told Kane’s senior staff “he was instructed by his supervising OAG attorney to focus only on members of the General Assembly’s black caucus and that when he had information of potentially illegal acts by white members of the General Assembly he was specifically told not to pursue it.”

Kane said there were other problems with the investigation related to the supervision of the informant and documentation of the probe.

Wadud Ahmad, a lawyer for one of four lawmakers named in the Inquirer’s story, Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown, D-Philadelphia, said she maintains she did nothing wrong.

Asked if Brown took any money, Ahmad replied: “I have not heard the tapes, I have not seen any evidence to that extent and she maintains her innocence.”

Two of the others did not respond to several messages left Monday, and the fourth, Rep. Louise Bishop, D-Philadelphia, declined comment.

“Anything I say to the press, they misrepresent me,” Bishop said.

Kane said she learned of the investigation shortly after she took office, and reviews of the case by her lawyers, a federal law-enforcement agency and the Dauphin County district attorney in Harrisburg all concluded it was not prosecutable. Both other agencies said they did not want the case, she said.

Asked about the consequences for people who took money or gifts, Kane said there may be ethics issues, but her office would not try to revive the criminal investigation.

“I think public corruption really is disgusting,” said Kane, a Democrat. “It turns my stomach.”

House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, issued a statement Monday that said the allegations in the Inquirer article troubled him.

“If it’s true that any legislators accepted gifts without reporting them, they should correct that reporting mistake,” Dermody said.

Kane said her office was considering the release of an email she said was part of the reason she was concerned that lawmakers were targeted because they were black. The informant and an agent involved with the investigation also indicated race was a factor, she said.

An analysis by state prosecutors of the 113 tape recordings made by the confidential informant indicated that 108 targeted black people, 3 targeted Latino people and 2 targeted white people, including one who was on the tape because he happened to be in a room with two black targets.

Kane has said the investigation had long been dormant by the time she took office. The agent and lead prosecutor have both left the office since Kane took over.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

blog comments powered by Disqus


Click to Read More

Click to Hide