Tuesday, April 29, 2014


Confidential Informant Tyron B. Ali, while living a free-spending lifestyle at taxpayer expense in 2010 and 2011, at least once handed a Harrisburg barmaid an envelope containing $400 cash for her Caribbean vacation.

The barmaid declined to speak for the record for fear of losing her job or damaging her establishment's reputation.

Ali spent more than $90,000 in taxpayer funds while working as an informant for then-Chief Deputy Attorney General Frank Fina in 2010 and 2011. The money includes about $22,100 in “payments to suspects.” Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who declined to prosecute the sloppily-executed sting, said $32,600 was unaccounted for.

It's unclear whether the cash Ali gave to the barmaid is among those expenses.

Ali befriended the barmaid during 2010 as he was trying to establish the persona of a high-flying Harrisburg lobbyist. The ruse was part of a sting, supervised by Fina, intended to ensnare legislators and others involved in the state political scene.

During that time, the barmaid was planning a vacation in the Caribbean. Ali told her not to buy a plane ticket, because he would take care of it for her. As the date of her trip approached, Ali still hadn't provided her with a ticket, despite her regular inquiries. About a week before she planned to leave, as she was asking about the ticket, he went to his car and retrieved an envelope, which he handed to her. It contained $400 cash, which he told her to use for her trip.

It was only after the Philadelphia Inquirer broke the story on March 17 that the barmaid realized that the money likely was part of the taxpayer-funded slush fund Ali was using to attempt to bribe legislators.

Were plane tickets to the Caribbean for Ali's barmaid pals among the legitimate expenses Fina approved for the failed sting? Or was this $400 part of the $32,600 that went unaccounted for? Were there other spontaneous acts of generosity benefiting Harrisburg's hospitality workforce? As much as $32,600 worth of spontaneous generosity?

Either Frank Fina approved of Ali handing out cash to his barmaid friends, or Fine had absolutely no idea what Ali was doing with tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars. Which is worse?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


If Chief Deputy Attorney General Frank Fina thought that incoming Attorney General Kathleen Kane wouldn't prosecute the long-dormant "sting" investigation he supervised, why'd he strike a deal with confidential informant Tyron B. Ali after she was elected?

And Fina didn't think she would prosecute, even before she ever learned of the existence of the investigation. Otherwise, why would he turn over files to an FBI agent at the very moment Kane was being sworn in?

He did this, he says, because he was "concerned about a conflict of interest." Fina's previous boss, Linda Kelly - who actually knew about it - had declined to pursue the case.

Fina didn't believe Kane would prosecute. Before she took office. Yet he signed an extraordinary agreement with confidential informant Tyron B. Ali - dismissing all 2,000+ charges of fraud - on November 30, 2012. That's 24 days after Kane, whom he believed would not prosecute, was elected.

An extraordinary deal. Dismissal of more than 2,000 charges of fraud. In exchange for testimony a case that Fina believed would not be pursued. In a case his previous boss had declined to pursue.

It's looking more and more as though the case was, as editorial boards have speculated, "a 'welcome present' designed to blow up in her face."

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


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


"[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


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


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


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?