Wednesday, April 16, 2014

EXPLAIN THE TARGETING, EXPLAIN THE STING

Did Attorney General Kathleen Kane make the right decision in abandoning a sting that snared Philadelphia officials who accepted unreported gifts?

Did the FBI think she made the right call? Did the U.S. Attorney's Office think so?

Did Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico agree?

Did former Attorney General now-Governor Tom Corbett think she made the right call? What about former Attorney General Bill Ryan?

Did Former Attorney General Linda Kelly's Chief of Staff agree?

And for heaven's sake, what does Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams have to say about all this?

Instead of trying to uncover the facts about exactly where this sting went wrong - so perhaps we all could judge for ourselves - journalists covering the story remain mired in the political judgement of some very conflicted sources.

Kane succinctly has listed the reasons she chose not to pursue the sting:
  • The extraordinary Cooperation Agreement, signed before she took office, dismissing more than 2,000 fraud charges against the Confidential Informant. "It effectively undermined the CI's credibility and that of the OAG for having agreed to it."
  • Lack of corroborating evidence or witnesses to verify the identities of those on the recordings. A prosecutor can't simply waltz into a courtroom, play a recording and allow a jury to decide what it means. The recordings can't be admitted unless someone can verify under oath the identities of the people on the recordings.
  • Failure to establish "quid pro quo." One of the more monumentally dim-witted aspects of the sting was the suggestion that black Democrats from Philadelphia were induced through bribes to vote against a Voter ID bill that Democrats had been fighting tooth-and-nail to defeat.
  • Lack of reasonable suspicion to support targeting the legislators.
  • Possible racial targeting: The OAG Agent who managed the CI "indicated that 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 ...Statements about limiting the focus of the investigation to only members of the General Assembly's Black Caucus were also made by the CI to federal law enforcement officials."
No one one disagrees that racial targeting throws the entire investigation into question; the disagreement is whether Kane had reason to believe there was racial targeting. In other words, is Kane lying about the statements she says the investigator and the informant made? No one ever uses the word "lying" when referencing the question of racial targeting, but either they made the statements or they didn't, and someone is lying in either case.

The recordings made during the investigation show that all the targets were people of color, except for one white legislator against whom Corbett had a specific grudge.

"Sources" told the Inquirer financial pitches were made to both Republicans and Democrats. Since there are no black Republican elected officials of note in Philadelphia, that means pitches were made to white Republicans. But there are no white Republicans on the recordings. Why?

The investigator told Fox 29 "No one would, again, ever suggest asking, ordering me to target members of my own race or any race. It just would not happen."

He didn't deny that he was told to target specific officials. Was he told to target certain individuals by name? How did they select the targets? Again, can he explain why are all the targets on the recordings are people of color?

Williams, for his part, is trying to deny the fact and explain it at the same time. He says the reason all the targets are people of color is because those are the people in Ali's "immediate realm." Which is it? Were whites targeted, or were only people of color targeted because they were in Ali's "realm?" (And, honestly, is Philadelphia really that segregated?)

The facts at hand show that Kane was right to drop the sting. The only way to justify continued questioning of her judgement is to show that these aren't the facts. Seth Williams' convoluted "it-isn't-true-but-here's-why-it-is-true" ramblings do not disprove the facts. The investigator denying that he's a racist does not disprove the facts. Corbett and Ryan insisting that they didn't "decide" not to pursue the case (they just ... didn't pursue it) does not disprove the facts.

In fact, Corbett and Ryan declining to say whether they thought Kane made the right decision is evidence that she did, as Corbett never would pass on a chance to attack Kane.

Friday, April 11, 2014

SETH WILLIAMS: UM ... NEVER MIND

"[Attorney General Kathleen] Kane said ... federal law enforcement officials agreed with her that the case was 'flawed and nonprosecutable.' But [Philadelphia District Attorney Seth] Williams and the other sources say the U.S. Attorney's Office in Philadelphia never made such a judgment about the sting during the several months that prosecutors reviewed the case file."  (Philadelphia Inquirer, 4/9/15)
"Feb. 22, 2013: Attorney General Kane's Senior Executive Deputy Attorney General and Special Agent in Charge of the Bureau of Criminal Investigations meet with the U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI in Philadelphia to determine what, if any, interest they had in adopting the corruption investigation or using the informant in other investigations. Both advised they did not want to adopt the pending corruption case and had no interest in using the informant at that time (p.5, OAG response, Oct. 4, 2013)." (PA Office of Attorney General, 4/10/14)
On January 15, 2013, at the same time Kane was taking the oath of office, Chief Deputy Attorney General Frank Fina directed an OAG agent to deliver to an FBI agent a a thumb drive of recordings, made during the course of a sting investigation into public corruption.  Kane did not direct him to do so, and Kane was not aware that he did so. In fact, Kane first would learn about the investigation  "in a cursory manner"  two days later from Fina.

A little more than a month after that, two of Kane's top staffers met with the U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI. The feds said they had no interest in pursuing the case.

Now, how they came to that conclusion without ever making a "judgement" about the case is not for us to say.  Williams may have some method of determining whether or not to pursue a case without making a judgement about it, but what do we know? We're not lawyers.

Williams characterizes the feds declining to take the case as Kane "aski[ng] for the case back." We're not sure why someone would have to ask for something back from someone who never took it in the first place.

Furthermore, "federal law enforcement officials with knowledge of Case File No. 36-622 have shared with current members of the OAG executive staff their opinion that the case is flawed and not prosecutable."  As Kane has not said who the officials are, Williams has no way of knowing what judgments they shared with Kane's staff.

Not content with being wrong about what happened with the feds, Williams compounded his mistake by insisting, "You [Kane] have repeatedly asserted it was the previous prosecutors who dropped charges against [Confidential Informant Tyron Ali], when in fact it appears that it was you who did so, and then sealed the proceedings to keep them from public scrutiny."

Again, we are not lawyers, but we are pretty sure that it is judges who seal court records, not prosecutors.

In this case, the judge sealed the records September 12, 2013, "after the informant's attorney initially requested charges to be dropped per agreement signed before Attorney General Kane took office."

A request, by the way, that was accompanied by an affidavit from none other than Frank Fina himself.

We have previously explained that Williams' childish insistence that Kane "dropped the charges" is disingenuous. Fina signed an agreement to drop all charges against Ali on November 30, 2012 - 45 days before Kane took office. Kane wanted to nullify the agreement Fina signed, but because the agreement was a legally enforceable contract, she was forced to honor it on November 8, 2013.

Considering that records in the case had been sealed - by a judge - two months earlier, the timeline does not support Williams' claim that Kane "dropped the charges, then sealed the proceedings."

How did Williams manage to come to such extraordinarily erroneous conclusions?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

CAN INVESTIGATOR AND KANE BOTH BE TELLING THE TRUTH? YES.

The lead investigator in the Philadelphia sting operation that Attorney General Kathleen Kane shut down – in part because of possible racial targeting – this week came forward to deny he was ordered to target African-American legislators.

“No one would, again, ever suggest asking, ordering me to target members of my own race or any race.  It just would not happen," the investigator, who now works for Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, told Fox 29.

In a statement, Kane said the investigator “indicated that 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.”

There are 23 members of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus, most of whom represent the Philadelphia area. It’s entirely possible the investigator was instructed to focus on some or all of these members by name, without anyone mentioning their ethnicity or their membership in the Black Caucus. It may not have registered with the investigator that all of the targets were people of color.

All but one, that is.

"There was several members of both the House and the Senate, Caucasian as well as African-American, who requested a number of things,” the investigator told Fox 29.

He doesn’t mention how many of the targets were Caucasian or who they were (And Fox 29 didn’t ask. Tsk, tsk, Fox 29).  Of 113 recording sessions conducted throughout the sting, there are only two white “targets,” one of whom “is on tape merely because he happens to be in a room with two black targets.”

Apparently, the sole white target of the sting was a legislator who had enraged then-Attorney General Tom Corbett in 2010 with his criticism of Corbett’s legislative investigation as politically motivated. 

“He started to explode,” Rep. John Galloway said. “He was this close to my face. ‘What do you know? I’m gonna send agents.’”

Send agents he did.  Galloway said, “One sits here like this, focuses right on me, and he’s asking me 'What do you know? Where did you come from? Why did you say what you said?' Another guy starts walking around, looking at my family pictures. 'Is this your daughter? Is this your wife? What does she do for a living?' Picks up papers, intimidating like you wouldn't believe.”

Months later, Galloway was then the sole white target for Frank Fina's ostensibly color-blind sting using Tyron Ali.  Coincidence?

Galloway’s appearance on the recordings does not exactly make the case that the targeting process was impartial, but it does give the investigator cover to say that both whites and people of color were targeted.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

SETH WILLIAMS: LET'S YOU AND HIM FIGHT

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams reminds us of that kid on the playground who's always trying to get someone else to take on the bully he's too afraid to confront himself.

Ever since Attorney General Kathleen Kane revealed that two members of his staff engaged in a sloppy sting investigation possibly tainted by racial targeting, Williams has been obsessed with branding her a liar.  There is, of course, one sure way to do so: by successfully prosecuting the case she says is unprosecutable.  But he won’t.

The lead investigator, who now works for Williams, told Office of Attorney General staff "that 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.”

The agent, who was promised a promotion and cash bonus for working on the investigation, has been forced to recant. Williams trotted him out for a Fox 29 interview, in which he denies racial targeting, but curiously, he never denies telling OAG staff that he was instructed to focus on members of the Black Caucus.  Not that was he asked. Tsk, tsk, Fox 29.

Another reason Kane declined to prosecute the case is that “federal law enforcement officials with knowledge of Case File No. 36-622 have shared with current members of the OAG executive staff their opinion that the case is flawed and not prosecutable.”  Williams has pounced on her assertion, insisting that neither the FBI nor the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to pursue the case. Kane never said they did. She never asked them to.

But even if, for some reason, Kane is lying about all of this - if there was no racial targeting, if federal officials never shared an opinion about the case – that won’t explain why Williams himself won’t prosecute.

If Williams is correct that Kane should have prosecuted, and the feds could have prosecuted, he opens himself to the question, why won’t he prosecute?

If the case is solid, Williams should pursue it. If it’s not, he should shut up.

We’re at a loss why the Inquirer keeps indulging him in his insistence that Kane is lying about the case being flawed, and the feds never said it was flawed, when he himself admitted it’s flawed. He told the Inquirer it would be difficult for his office to prosecute the cases because Confidential Informant Tyron Ali apparently no longer had any legal obligation to testify against those he had taped because the charges against him had been dropped. “There's no way I can use him under any prosecutorial theory I can think of," Williams said.

It was Williams’ own Assistant District Attorney Frank Fina, the supervising OAG attorney on the case, the one who told the lead investigator to focus on members of the Black Caucus, the one who promised him a promotion and cash bonus for working on the case, who dropped the charges. And he did it 45 days before Kane even took office.

Williams contends it was Kane who dropped the charges, but he’s being disingenuous. Fina prepared and signed the agreement on Nov. 30, 2012. Kane didn’t intend to dismiss the case, but Ali's lawyer filed a motion in court demanding action on the agreement and she had no choice. The agreement could be revoked only if Ali broke the terms, and Kane was legally obligated to honor it.

But here again, if she’s wrong and he’s right, he could have pursued the charges. Fina left the OAG and joined the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office in April of 2013, taking a copy of the rejected sting case file with him.  Kane didn’t take action to formally dismiss the charges against Ali until October. If Williams didn’t think the agreement Fina signed in November 2012 rendered the case unprosecutable, why didn't he prosecute it? If he did, he should shut up.

Alas, he won’t shut up. And he’s too afraid to touch the case with a ten-foot pole. Meanwhile, who’s showing more political courage than Williams? Harrisburg gadfly Gene Stilp, who’s filed a private criminal complaint against some of the lawmakers targeted in the sting.

It’s a sad state of affairs when a court jester like Stilp has more guts than the District Attorney of Philadelphia.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

"A WEALTH OF INFORMATION"

When Mike Manzo, former Chief of Staff to the House Democratic Leader, was sentenced to prison in 2012, prosecutor Frank Fina said Manzo had provided "a wealth of information" on other cases.

"In his own statement to the judge, Fina said Manzo had helped with a 'large number of investigations that have yet to be revealed… entirely separate from what the court has seen.'"


According to the Patriot-News, "The sentencing of Manzo, one-time chief of staff to former House Minority Leader Bill DeWeese, was delayed because he continued to be a key prosecution witness used by the state attorney general's office.
Manzo was "definitely at the tip of the spear in terms of cooperation," Fina said.

Fina would not elaborate. As the years went by and no new cases were brought against House Democrats, we often wondered just what the heck Fina meant.

Then we learned about Fina's botched sting operation targeting African-American members of the House. And then we learned that shortly after Manzo's sentencing, Fina urged then-Attorney General Linda Kelly to "expand the inquiry," in an effort to snare even more legislators.

Were these the investigations for which Manzo had provided  "a wealth of information?"  Did Manzo spend months telling prosecutors about the proclivities and foibles of House Democratic members in an effort to have them arrested, only to emerge from prison and secure employment lobbying those very members?

It seems obvious, given that the Office of Attorney General has brought no other cases against House Democrats since Manzo's sentencing.

When asked about the cases on which Manzo was cooperating, Fina said, "We don’t do these things for public notoriety.  And we can’t effectively do them if there is public notoriety.  The only way we can really do our job is if we do these investigations in secret in a very careful way.”

While Fina's "Bonusgate" investigation leaked like a sieve, he was incredibly concerned about secrecy in the Philly sting operation. In his memo to Kelly, he worried "the integrity of our secrecy efforts" may have been compromised. His concern over secrecy where Manzo is concerned - given his total lack of it during "Bonusgate" - points to a sting.


Kelly never acted on Fina's suggestion to expand the probe. Had she, it's likely that we'd have seen mugshots of at least a few current members of the House Democratic Caucus. Instead, Mike Manzo, a contract lobbyist, spends his days schmoozing the very legislators his cooperation might otherwise have landed in prison.

Several news organizations have filed a request to have records in the sting operation unsealed, a move supported by Attorney General Kathleen Kane.  How will legislators react if they discover they were targeted by a prosecutor armed with the insider information Manzo provided?

Monday, March 31, 2014

LET'S SEE WHAT HAPPENS

The defenders of former Deputy Attorney General Frank Fina recently bent the ear of Philadelphia Inquirer commentator Michael Smerconish. It appears that intrepid crime fighter Fina really wasn't trying to nab just any ol' bad guys in the sting Attorney General Kathleen Kane deep-sixed. Instead, Fina wanted to use controversial confidential informant Tyron Ali to troll Harrisburg "to see what would happen":

"However, these five individuals were never the investigation's focus, according to a person close to the investigation with whom I spoke last week: 'We could have done that until the cows came home.' Instead, the investigation had a broader, long-term focus predicated on relationship-building, 'not pinching individual legislators,' said this individual. Indeed, investigators say this wasn't about individual lawmakers, which  is why they take umbrage with Kane having played the race card. Their effort was born of frustration that, despite having racked up 23 convictions of both Republicans and Democrats in Bonusgate and Computergate, there was no change in the culture of Pennsylvania politics. So they set their sights larger, intending to let Ali spread money around, ingratiate himself, and see what would happen if the faux lobbyist set up offices in Harrisburg." (Philadelphia Inquirer 3/30/14)

Well, if they didn't really want to nab the now-infamous four Democratic state legislators caught on tape, who exactly did they want to entrap to end this nefarious "culture" of Pennsylvania politics? A sitting leader in the legislature? All members of all four legislative caucuses? What does it really mean to say they wanted an open-ended sting to "see what would happen?"

Apparently, Fina didn't want to grab a sitting Speaker of the House for using his taxpayer-funded staff for his campaign. Pre-trial documents filed by former State Representative Mike Veon show that Fina had in his possession reams of fundraising databases and emails used by then-Speaker Keith McCall for his campaign and those of other House candidates. (Veon pre-trial filing exhibits) In fact, McCall had multiple state legislative staff working on his fundraising, including a former Veon staff member who testified under oath during the "Bonusgate" trial that he was doing precisely the same kind of illegal political work for McCall that he did for Veon:

"Lavelle also did not dispute the assertion that he continued fundraising after joining the staff of then-Democratic Whip Keith McCall in 2007, who has not been charged with wrongdoing. 'You continued to do fundraising as part of you job with Speaker McCall?' defense lawyer Dan Raynak asked. 'You continued to send out memos and e-mails during the work day with Speaker McCall?' 'That's correct,' Lavelle replied." (Associated Press 2/19/2010)

McCall isn't the only sitting Speaker of the House that Fina let off the hook.  He was untroubled by Speaker Sam Smith's deep involvement with the "Computergate" scandal in the House Republican Caucus. Page after page of grand jury testimony documents Smith's knowledge and participation in the scheme that defrauded the taxpayers by at least $10 million. (9/27/11)

Nor did Fina and his crew seem concerned about the Republican State Senate Caucus' 40% share of the illegal 60/40 scheme that determined who got Pennsylvania Turnpike contracts and jobs. Only the State Senate Democratic 60-percenters were investigated by Fina's team for Kane to ultimately indict:

"A former Chief Operating Officer of the Turnpike explained, 'the choice of who the -- which firms they are, as I said, typically, there was always a 60/40 rule,...that selection, depending on what year, and who the governor was, and who was on the State Senate, it would either come out of the Senate leadership or out of the Governor's office.' In practice, the Senate provided direction to the Commission through their staff persons." (Grand Jury presentment)

We'll be hearing quite a bit about the 60/40 rule this spring during the Turnpike corruption trial, but only the State Senate Democratic Caucus...not Governor Ed Rendell, Senator Chip Brightbill, or Senator Bob Jubelirer.

Let's face it...Fina and his defenders are blowing smoke about trying to end corruption in Harrisburg.  They certainly wanted to make arrests and glorify themselves, but only by carefully selecting who to go after and who to indict...regardless of their own evidence and witness testimony.

Monday, March 24, 2014

SETH WILLIAMS' RACE PROBLEM

There is one reason Seth Williams is attacking Attorney General Kathleen Kane's decision not to pursue charges in Frank Fina's Philadelphia sting operation, and it's not because he thinks it's a solid case.

After all, Williams has concurrent jurisdiction and is free to file charges if he sees fit. But as he told the Philadelphia Inquirer, "[confidential informant Tyron] Ali apparently no longer had any legal obligation to testify against those he had taped because the charges against him had been dropped."

The charges were dropped 45 days before Kane took office. The obstacle Williams says he faces is the obstacle Kane faced.

"There's no way I can use him under any prosecutorial theory I can think of," Williams said. So under what prosecutorial theory does he think Kane can?

None, of course. As we said, he's not attacking Kane because he thinks Fina built a solid case.

He's attacking Kane because she revealed that two members of his staff participated in apparent racial targeting. That doesn't look good to voters, especially in a majority-minority city like Philadelphia.

According to Kane, "The OAG Agent who managed the CI was debriefed by current senior OAG executive staff members prior to his leaving OAG for employment at PDAO (to join again with the former OAG Attorneys who had previously directed the investigation). During the debrief, the OAG Agent indicated that 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. The OAG Agent also stated that his supervising OAG Attorney promised him a promotion and cash bonus for working on the investigation."

Furthermore, "Statements about limiting the focus of the investigation to only members of the General Assembly's Black Caucus were also made by the CI to federal law enforcement officials."

Sure, Williams had the option of feigning outrage and making a show of firing Fina and Claude Thomas, the OAG Agent who supervised Ali. But he'd admitted he'd already reviewed the case and he clearly had no problem with the tactics at the time of his review. If he publicly accepts Kane's version of events, it might be interpreted to mean he'd knowingly harbored staffers who participated in apparent racial targeting.

So he can't publicly accept Kane's version of events.

Williams excuses the damning fact that of 113 recordings, white targets appear only twice - because, he said, only black targets circulated in Ali's "immediate realm."

But his statement contradicts "sources with knowledge of the sting," who said "the investigation made financial pitches to both Republicans and Democrats, but only Democrats accepted the payments." There being no black Republicans of note in Philadelphia politics, that statement means financial pitches were made to white targets who turned them down.

Which is it? Were pitches made to white Republicans or were only black Democrats targeted because they were in Ali's "immediate realm?"

And if pitches were made to white Republicans who turned them down, where are the recordings? Of the two white targets, one "is on tape merely because he happens to be in a room with two black targets," Kane said. And the other one is John Galloway, who has every reason to believe he was targeted because he enraged Tom Corbett with his criticism of the "Bonusgate" investigation.

Galloway said,"The idea was to scare the living (expletive) out of anybody who questioned Tom Corbett."

Was, and still is.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A PREEMPTIVE STRIKE

We first read the Inquirer’s Sunday report on Frank Fina’s aborted Philadelphia “sting” online, without having seen the ludicrous “MEN WALK ON MOON”-sized headline.

We thought what we were reading was an exposé of Fina’s shoddy, racist, irresponsible investigative methods.  We were shocked later to realize that it was Attorney General Kathleen Kane whose judgment was being questioned. We're still shocked, to be honest.

Kane’ main reasons for declining to prosecute are unambiguous:
  •     The entire case hinged on the testimony of a swindler accused of stealing nearly a half-million dollars from a state food program for low-income children and seniors. In exchange for his cooperation, Tyron B. Ali wasn’t merely offered a deal on the charges, but given a complete free pass – an agreement “so extraordinary and lenient that it effectively undermined the CI's credibility and that of OAG for having agreed to it,” Kane said.
  •           The recordings Ali made are the only evidence, and Ali was the only one who could verify them. “No other supporting or corroborating evidence exists,” Kane said
  •         The OAG Agent who managed Ali told current senior OAG executive staff that he was to focus only on members of the Black Caucus and not to pursue potentially illegal acts by white legislators.
  •         Ali himself gave “statements about limiting the focus of the investigation to only members of the General Assembly's Black Caucus” to federal law enforcement officials.
  • It's not illegal for officials simply to accept gifts. The operation failed to establish a clear quid-pro-quo. The only thing the officials appear to be guilty of is a failure to report the gifts on their ethics statements - an offense equal to Governor Tom Corbett's failure to report the purchase of a $265,000 vacation home in South Carolina - and no one seems to be clamoring for a criminal prosecution of Corbett. 
It is inconceivable that Kane’s elected predecessor would be second-guessed for dropping a prosecution given the compelling reasons listed above.  There is no doubt: if reporters had asked Tom Corbett why he chose not to pursue a particular case and he responded, as Kane did, that the case improperly focused on African Americans and a county D.A. had called the case “unprosecutable,” the headline on the story would’ve read, “Botched Sting Attempt Tainted By Racism.”

Probably not in two-foot-high font, though.

Since Kane’s exhaustively thorough press conference yesterday, the  punditocracy seems to be backing off its initial pearl-clutching horror while still blaming Kane for her own tar-and-feathering. After all, they sniffed, she should have explained everything in more detail before the story was published. Perhaps she should have. But perhaps she thought she would be afforded the same respect for her office that Corbett had been. Perhaps she thought that her word that a case was compromised beyond salvaging would be taken seriously. Furthermore, we don’t know how much time she was given to respond, or how the allegations of political cronyism were presented to her.

We at this blog have spent years – years! – documenting clear-cut instances where Tom Corbett failed to prosecute wrongdoing by political allies. York County District Attorney Stan Rebert. Rep. Matt Wright. Rep. James Lynch. State Rep. Mauree Gingrich.  State Rep. Eugene McGill. Crawford County Treasurer Fred Wagner. And these are just a few that we know about.

Corbett has not offered a single justification for not prosecuting as cogent as Kane’s plethora of reasons in the Philadelphia case. In fact, we can’t recall Corbett even being asked. But if he had given a reason, we’re sure it would have been accepted at face value.

Perhaps most egregiously, Corbett “cleared” the Senate Republican Caucus - which awarded the largest taxpayer-funded bonuses to staff who worked on campaigns – of wrongdoing without subpoenaing a single witness to appear before the grand jury. Even a Republican Senator called Corbett’s investigation “a joke” and said his lack of action was politically motivated. Corbett in fact blew off an intern who tried to report illegal campaigning in Sen. Jane Orie’s office, then his spokesman tried to lie about it.

Senate Republicans contributed at least $90,000 to Corbett’s campaign.

The idea that Kane would risk the integrity of her office to protect relatively low-level Philadelphia lawmakers is frankly absurd, even if she does have gubernatorial aspirations. Even the craven manipulators who leaked the story to the Inquirer know what an absurd notion it is. Kathleen Kane is arguably the most popular Democrat in Pennsylvania, winning more votes in 2012 than even President Obama and Senator Casey. She’s about to release a report on how her predecessor botched the Jerry Sandusky child molestation investigation. Even someone naïve enough to believe Kane’s beholden to Philadelphia House members and Traffic Court judges has to be savvy enough to figure out what ‘s going on here.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

HERE COME THE CLOWNS

This weekend the Philadelphia Daily News' Chris Brennan broke the explosive revelation that Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams investigated and is now prosecuting State Representative J.P. Miranda even though the two were (are?) rivals in a love triangle that included an unnamed woman:

"Defense Attorney A. Charles Peruto Jr. yesterday accused District Attorney Seth Williams of investigating state Rep. J.P. Miranda and charging him with a crime because they 'were both dating the same girl at the same time...I think it's a vindictive prosecution that singled out J.P. Miranda because J.P. Miranda and Seth Williams were both dating the same girl at the same time,' Peruto said. 'I think this is one way to eliminate your competition.' Peruto declined to identify the woman, saying he did not want to 'besmirch' her in the media." (Daily News 3/2/14)

It speaks volumes that there was no denial from Williams on the claim of a shared romantic interest. Setting aside a debate of Miranda's guilt, this certainly illustrates an incredible degree of poor judgement on the part of the District Attorney. Avoiding the perception of knee-capping a rival suitor is surely the strongest of reasons to refer this case to the US Attorney or Pennsylvania Attorney General. Although, there is reason to believe that Williams doesn't care and has carefully put in place a team of prosecutors to do his bidding for both his personal and political advantage.  

After all, Williams did hire Frank Fina, Patrick Blessington, and Marc Costanzo onto his staff following their stints as Assistant Attorney Generals under now Governor Tom Corbett.

At the time, Williams said it was to crank up  efforts to crack down on political corruption: 

"Earlier this month, Williams received court approval to create a new investigative grand jury, which allows prosecutors to subpoena documents and compel testimony...To help staff the Special Investigations Unit, Williams hired two former state prosecutors, Frank Fina and E. Marc Costanzo. They joined a previous hire, Patrick J. Blessington, who was also a colleague from the Attorney General's Office...Williams is taking a different tack than his predecessor...Abraham repeatedly referred political corruption cases to state or federal prosecutors. She always defended the referrals, arguing that she had a potential conflict of interest if she sought to pursue fellow Democrats." (Inquirer 4/29/13)

However, from what we've seen over the past year, Williams brought these former Corbett cronies on board to do for him what they did very well for Corbett - base prosecutorial decisions on personal and political considerations.

Williams told the Inquirer last April, "Philadelphians think we turn a blind eye to political corruption in Philadelphia. I wanted them to know that we don't - and that we will abdicate our responsibility of prosecuting the appropriate cases in Philadelphia." (Inquirer 4/29/13

That sounds good, but we think otherwise. Williams hired Fina, Blessington, and Costanzo because he could count on them to turn a blind eye to corruption when ordered, especially when personally and politically expedient. Here's just a few examples of how these politically motivated prosecutors put their old boss Corbett's career ahead of justice:
  • Fina, Blessington, and Costanzo were the same team that followed Corbett's instructions to leave his close political allies in the State Senate Republican Caucus untouched in the bonusgate investigations as Charlie Thompson from the Patriot News outlined last year (Patriot News 2/27/13). In fact, these three supposed corruption busters actually turned away the tipster who eventually brought down State Senator Jane Orie and Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin (2/21/13).
  • They  ignored a referal from the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission that found former Republican State Representative Matt Wright from Bucks County guilty of using his taxpayer funded legislative staff for the exact same purposes as the bonusgate defendants. Instead Fina, Costanzo, and Blessington followed Corbett's orders and ignored the referral because of strong connections in the case between Wright and the powerful Deon family (Inquirer 1/30/10).
  • Fina, Costanzo, and Blessington were found by the Patriot News and the ACLU to have no problem helping Tom Corbett's nascent gubernatorial campaign by egregiously abusing the state grand jury system to silence political opponents (Patriot News 5/25/10)
  • Worst of all is the unfolding scandal surrounding Fina's role in slow-walking the Jerry Sandusky investigation to avoid negative repercussions for Corbett's campaign for governor. As post-indictment riots attested the repercussions of the child molestation indictment proved quite harmful to the vaunted Penn State football brand and consequently quite unpopular. In fact, Fina and Costanzo were both still at the OAG when Corbett's replacement made the politically expedient decision to delete millions of emails. Both men stood by and allowed their destruction. (Pittsburgh Tribune Review 2/14/14)
Since starting their work in Philadelphia, Fina, Costanzo, and Blessington haven't lost a step in doing the same kind of political dirty work for Williams - or in some cases, NOT doing any work.

This starts with ignoring a political corruption scandal in Williams' very own office.  The Legal Intelligencer reported on the political macing conducted by Williams on his staff, yet not a peep from the big, tough political corruption buster Patrick Blessington (6/8/12) Of course, that is exactly why Williams hired someone like Blessington...he will turn his head when ordered.

When Williams announced his intentions to dig into public corruption within Philadelphia's borders, we thought perhaps he would have the intestinal fortitude to bring Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Ron Castille onto to the carpet for initially allowing double dipping by one of the Family Court Building developers - and lying about it.  Yet, nothing. Castille was able to continue lying about his knowledge, feign ignorance, spout some nonsense about the Marine Corps a la Bill Deweese, and not be troubled a bit. (Inquirer 7/25/10). Once again, when you have partisan-hack prosecutors like Fina, Costanzo and Blessington on the clock, they will make sure an influential judge is kept in the clear...especially a Republican.

Then, there is the ongoing Attorney General's investigation of State Senator Leanna Washington for running her campaign operation out of her taxpayer funded district office using her taxpayer funded legislative staff (Inquirer 10/24/13). We shouldn't be surprised that Williams didn't have his crack team of Fina, Costanzo, and Blessington on the case instead of the OAG.  Washington is a strong political ally and one of Williams' campaign allies after all (Friendsofsethwilliams).

Monday, February 24, 2014

WHAT MIGHT CORBETT HAVE WANTED TO HIDE WITH EMAIL DUMP?

Two weeks ago, Tribune-Review Capitol correspondent and columnist Brad Bumsted helpfully explained to readers that Attorney General Kathleen Kane's announcement about unexpectedly recovered emails means either her examination of her predecessor's astonishingly lengthy Jerry Sandusky investigation has turned up damaging information, or it hasn't.

This week, he's followed it up with the equally insightful observation that the Office of Attorney General's February 2011 email dump means either Tom Corbett had something to hide, or he didn't.

As evidence that he didn't, Bumsted offers up the fact that neither Corbett nor acting Attorney General Bill Ryan had any way of knowing in February of 2011 that Kane would be elected AG the following year, launch an examination of the Sandusky case and seek those very emails.

In other words, Bumsted is asking us to believe that it never would have occurred to Corbett, who built his signature legislative corruption cases largely on email evidence, that emails ever could be used against him.

It's true that Corbett and Ryan could not have forseen in February 2011 Kane's election and eventual examination of the Sandusky case.

But what certainly did occur to them in February 2011 is that a case the OAG had largely ignored for two years was now headed toward an indictment.

There's nothing in the public record to suggest that Corbett ever seriously intended to investigate Aaron Fisher's complaint against Sandusky.  Corbett has publicly declared that he had determined he could not pursue the case without additional victims. And although Sandusky's charity The Second Mile put Sandusky in well-documented contact with hundreds of potential victims - Sandusky had even included the names of some of his victims in his 2001 memoir, Touched - for two years, no one from the OAG ever reached out to any of them.

It's fair to suppose that if the case had relied solely on the investigative efforts of the OAG, Jerry Sandusky might still be a free man.

In December of 2010, the mother of Victim 6 reached out to investigators after journalist Sara Ganim gave her their contact information.

Victim 6's complaint against Sandusky had been investigated by Centre County authorities in 1998. Corbett's office ostensibly had been investigating Sandusky since March of 2009. That they could have failed to identify Victim 6 over the course of two years - if they had been looking - is inconceivable. It's impossible to conclude that they were doing any active investigation during that time.

It was Victim 6's mother who told investigators about the book, Touched - again, it defies imagination that they wouldn't have known about it had they been conducting an active investigation. It was she who went through the book with investigators and identified victims 3, 4, 5 and 7.

Now that they had identified additional victims - and more importantly, now that Sara Ganim knew they had identified additional victims - it was clear by February 2011 that the case would proceed to an indictment.

Corbett and Ryan didn't need to forsee Kane's investigation to know how politically damaging emails from the two-year period when the case was inactive could be to Corbett.

What might the OAG have been discussing over email in the years before the email dump?

Aaron testified twice to the grand jury, to no effect, in June and November of 2009, according to his book, Silent No More. Why was he forced to do this when Corbett already had determined not to proceed without additional victims, and none had been identified by then?

Deputy AG Jonelle Eshbach told Aaron at least twice that an arrest was imminent: in February of 2010, again in March of 2010. Again, Corbett says he determined from the beginning he would not make an arrest without additional victims, and those victims weren't identified until December 2010 at the earliest. Why would Eschbach be talking about an indictment in February and March? A search warrant wasn't even executed on Sandusky's  home until June 2011.

In mid-August 2010, Eschback ignored repeated phone calls from Aaron's psychologist, Mike Gillum. When they finally spoke, Gillum said Aaron's mother wanted to go to the FBI.

It's not hard to imagine that all of these events and others like them were hot topics of email conversations within the OAG. And it's not hard to imagine that these events, which happened at a time when no one in the OAG thought anything would come of Aaron's complaint, took on quite a different cast in light of Sandusky's imminent arrest.

Bumsted muses, "If the email deletions were aimed at protecting anyone, the timeline suggests it had more to do with Corbett's public corruption cases pending at the time."

We won't suggest that Corbett didn't have plenty to hide about the pending cases - which, like Sandusky, were cases he never intended to pursue until public pressure forced his hand. But the accusations that he'd been playing politics with the legislative cases had been flying for years, with no lasting damage - after all, the only victims were unpopular politicians and their staffers.  Two years of dragging a child rape victim through hell? That's a different story.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

WHAT WERE THEY DOING?

How long does it take the most sophisticated law enforcement agency in the sixth-largest state in the nation to track down a single victim of a prolific serial rapist who preyed upon a concentrated population of children and even included some of their identities in his own autobiography?

We may never know.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

HEY, DOJ! WHY NOT CORBETT?

The US Department of Justice recently indicted former Governor Bob O'Donnell in Virginia for accepting gifts from a businessman in exchange for favors (Associated Press 1/21/2014). Now, it is hard at work in New Jersey investigating Governor Chris Christie's involvement in the lane closures onto the George Washington Bridge and real estate developments in Hoboken.

When will one of the US Attorneys in Pennsylvania begin an investigation of Governor Tom Corbett's relationship with fracking waste hauler John Moran? 

There were gifts exchanged in return for very exclusive access for Moran and favors to his business. That certainly rises to the level of graft outlined by the O'Donnell indictment. And, we're talking about toxic fracking waste from the shale gas extraction industry. That has to be as important an issue as tying up traffic headed onto the George Washington Bridge for a few days.

Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Will Bunch has done a fantastic job showing how within the span of a few months, Corbett received vacations and other gifts from Moran in exchange for a blind eye from the Corbett administration's Department of Environmental Protection. (Inquirer 1/16/13) In short, Corbett decided to allow millions of gallons of fracking waste to roll through dozens of Pennsylvania cities and counties in exchange for helicopter rides and a free vacation (State Impact 1/20/12)

Oh, Corbett tried to hide the gifts from the public, too. (Inquirer 1/20/12)

US Attorneys may also want to check into how Corbett used agents from the Office of Attorney General to intimidate Democratic State Representative John Galloway during Corbett's gubernatorial campaign in 2010. (Daily News)  Galloway had the temerity to question and have a public shouting match with the Attorney General over Corbett's laughably selective use of the grand jury investigating the state legislature. 

Keep in mind that the grand jury report on the PA General Assembly as a whole - not just the bonusgate figures - said "hundreds of legislative employees who, although paid by taxpayer dollars to do legislative work, do campaign work on state time." (28th Statewide Grand Jury Report Number One) So, when agents with subpoena power showed up at Galloway's office immediately after his spat with the Attorney General, it wasn't a subtle message from Corbett to the legislator that "you will be next if you don't shut up."

In New Jersey, US Attorneys are investigating how Christie's Lieutenant Governor was a messenger to the Hoboken mayor on a controversial real estate development.  How are two law enforcement officers barging into Galloway's office any less a scene of intimidation that that?  Based on the grand jury report of the ENTIRE state legislature, Galloway certainly had reason to be concerned if subpoenas started landing in his Capitol and district offices. Just look at what is happening to State Senator Leanna Washington after someone decided to look a bit closer at the work her taxpayer funded staff did on her campaign (Inquirer 10/24/13).

Maybe one of Pennsylvania's three US Attorneys are already investigating Corbett's connections to Moran or his unethical use of the Office of Attorney General as a tool of political intimidation. If not, there certainly is enough here - and publicly reported - to look into. Let's hope they get to work.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

ISN'T IT IRONIC, DON'T YOU THINK?

"The Kane report is the “X” factor in Corbett's re-election campaign this year. If it hammers [Gov. Tom] Corbett, which is likely, [Attorney General Kathleen] Kane will be accused of saving it for an election year. Wrapping up the probe by the end of 2013 would have been better. -- Brad Bumsted, Tribune-Review, 1/18/14

If you don't know why this is possibly the most ironic passage ever written by a Capitol correspondent in the history of Pennsylvania politics, perhaps you never read this one:

"We, too, are concerned at the length of time this process [Corbett's investigation of the legislature] is taking. It is fully more than two years since Corbett's office began working on the issue ...If this goes much further Corbett risks being accused of using it to launch what many expect will be a gubernatorial bid in 2010." -- Patriot-News editorial, 7/12/09

The very investigation that Kane will be accused of politicizing if she releases findings too close to the election was precipitated by Corbett's concern that he would be accused of politicizing an investigation if he released findings too close to an election.

We have demonstrated repeatedly - and the lead investigator on the case has admitted - that Corbett blew off the Sandusky complaint in 2009 because he was obsessed with nailing down indictments of House Republican "Speaker Emeritus" John Perzel and House Democratic Craven Coward Bill DeWeese before the start of an election year.

The deeper irony is that the investigation already had been politicized to an unprecedented degree, without a shred of pushback from either the press or the voters.

It's still stunning that Corbett's September 2008 announcement of a "moratorium" on additional charges in the legislative investigation wasn't met with incredulous howls of mockery.

In essence, what Corbett had announced was that weeks before Election Day, he was happy to stage a dog-and-pony show of a hearing accusing Democrats (of 272 counts which resulted in acquittals or were dropped), but he didn't want to influence that same election by charging any Republicans with wrongdoing. Bumsted still thinks it is a dandy policy to suppress negative information about GOP candidates until after Election Day, suggesting "Here's a novel idea: Kane could publicly announce the report [on the Sandusky case] won't be released until Nov. 5 regardless of when it's completed."

What made Corbett's 2008 "moratorium" completely ludicrous - as any reporter who had bothered to read the presentment could've told us - was that Corbett was nowhere near prepared to indict a Republican by Election Day 2008. When he announced his "moratorium," Corbett had not even begun to investigate House Republicans in earnest. It was a month after that announcement that he convened hearings to force House Republicans to comply with subpoenas that the caucus had ignored, with impunity, for a full year.

So: in 2008, Corbett announced that he didn't want to politicize an investigation that he'd already irredeemably politicized by announcing charges in an investigation that he hadn't even begun. Six years later, it's Kane, who stands a chance of exposing how Corbett's bungled political maneuvering delayed capture of child rapist for nearly three years, who's accused of playing politics.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

SANDUSKY SLOW-WALK, SON OF BONUSGATE

"...how did bonus gate interfere w/ ?" former Patriot-News columinst @LauraVecsey asks us via Twitter.

As many have suggested, then-gubernatorial candidate and Attorney General Tom Corbett botched his so-called investigation of the legislature in 2007 by investigating only one of four "potential targets:"
"If I have four potential targets, and I think they all might be involved in the same thing, and if I go to house A and take all the evidence out and wait two years to go after B, C and D, there’s not going to be any evidence in B, C and D,” he said. “What you do is you have to swoop in all at one time. What you do is you have four targets, and you say, ‘OK, we’re going to execute search warrants — boom.’ And you go in and you take everything out,” he said. “You take the boxes of files, you take the computers, you take everything out. *

That's what a responsible prosecutor would do, if he or she actually were investigating a possible crime. Corbett was not. He was a politician with his eye on the Governor's Mansion, looking for good publicity (and perhaps some valuable goodwill from House Republicans), so he set his sights on House Democrats alone. But Bill DeWeese's legal maneuverings threatened to drag the case on past the point of political advantage, so he entered into a negotiation with DeWeese to gain evidence on his colleagues and underlings.

 He timed the arrests and preliminary hearing right before the 2008 legislative and attorney general elections, and the trials would wrap up just in time for the 2010 Gubernatorial race. Perfect!


But things weren't going as smoothly as Corbett had hoped.  Accusations of partisanship forced him to find a Republican to indict - a task complicated by the fact that he'd allowed those same Republicans to dump the computers where evidence might be stored. (Who could've predicted that would happen?)

With evidence missing and witnesses stonewalling, Team Corbett was in a frenzy in late 2008 and early 2009 trying to build a Republican indictment.

In March of 2009, in the middle of this frenzy, two things happened. The sexual abuse complaint against Jerry Sandusky landed on Corbett's desk. And the Tribune-Review published irrefutable evidence that DeWeese had been complicit in the bonus scandal. (Evidence, we remind you, that had been in Corbett's possession since the fall of 2007. We further remind you that DeWeese never was charged in connection with illegal bonuses or any of the caucus-wide activities at the heart of the original "Bonusgate" scandal, despite ample evidence of his involvement. He in fact invoked the Fifth Amendment to avoid testifying in the "Bonusgate" trial.)

"During the Bonusgate investigation, we had a shortage of investigators in Harrisburg," Randy Feathers, lead agent on the Sandusky case, told the Altoona Mirror.  His admission has received remarkably little media attention given the public outrage over the length of the investigation.

Why did it take so long? It took so long because nearly everybody in the Office of Attorney General was busy in 2009 trying to indict DeWeese and John Perzel before the end of the year.

Why was Corbett still investigating DeWeese and Perzel nearly three years after supposedly launching a probe of "all four caucuses?"  Because a) he lied, and didn't launch a probe of "all four caucuses" in 2007 and b) because he entered a "negotiation" with DeWeese in 2007 for the sake of political expediency.

* If just one more Corbett apologist drags out the tired and discredited excuse that he had to investigate House Democrats first because they allegedly were "destroying evidence," so help us we will turn this blog around and slap you with our ring hand. It's both false and illogical.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

GET THE GRAND JURY READY

Following the resignation of Bob Kerns as Montgomery County Republican Chair, the GOP power brokers of the Philadelphia suburbs have announced that State Representative Mike Vereb will be their party's new leader (Philadelphia Inquirer 11/17/13).

There was a time when this news would raise nary an eyebrow in Harrisburg, but that was before the bonusgate investigations. Investigations that led to Vereb himself to call for a special, new "public integrity commission." (Repvereb.com 7/26/10)  

We are very curious as to how Vereb will shoulder the tremendous number of  new political campaign responsibilities. Vereb said it himself just a few days ago -- "It's a busy job." (Philadelphia Inquirer 11/13/15)  We don't doubt him for a second. Montgomery County is ground zero for swing voters in statewide elections.  Governor Tom Corbett will need things to go well here if he has any hope of being re-elected.  Plus, the Philadelphia suburbs are prime territory for state legislative pick-ups for the Democratic caucuses next year.  It is a big, busy job indeed.

Yet, how will Vereb find the time to do all this extra work without breaking the law a la bonusgate?

In addition to his responsibilities to the taxpayers and his constituents as a state legislator, Vereb is also the House Majority Caucus Secretary.  Vereb has been very clear about the importance and the time commitment required of the position:

"As caucus secretary, Mike is responsible for helping to establish a legislative agenda and recording all official legislative activities in the House of Representatives." (Repvereb.com Bio)

In fact, when Vereb was first elected caucus secretary he outlined just how busy his new job would be:

"Vereb said because he had been elevated to a leadership post he would lose his committee assignments on the judiciary, insurance and gambling oversight committees.  He will be spending more time in Harrisburg during the legislative session because the secretary has additional duties." (Times Herald 11/11/11)

Oh, and for his extra responsibilities and effort, Vereb gets paid $8,000 more dollars a year on top off his $83,000 base state legislative salary.

We're wondering how will he do it?  How will Vereb give the taxpayers their money's worth?  How is this guy going to steer the most important county for Pennsylvania's Republican Party while at the same time give an honest days work to the taxpayers who elected him - and who pay him a big, fat paycheck, along with gold-plated health and pension benefits?

Attorney General Kathleen Kane and Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Ferman should keep a sharp look-out to track Vereb's operation and his use of perks.  Will he be using his taxpayer funded vehicle for tooling around the county on Republican Party business?  Who will monitor how much political campaign work his taxpayer funded staff in both Harrisburg and Montgomery County may end up doing - even "after hours."

As we've all seen, even after bonusgate, elected officials including State Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin still used taxpayer resources for campaign purposes.  Even after the scandals from 2008 and 2009, state legislators like J.P Miranda still hire ghost employees.  For Vereb to say he is different just won't cut it.