Monday, March 31, 2014


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


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


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


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).