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Pennsylvania AG Kane wants more money to battle Mexican drug gangs

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Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, 11:48 a.m.
 

HARRISBURG — Mexican drug cartels are a growing threat to Pennsylvania neighborhoods, Attorney General Kathleen Kane said on Wednesday in asking lawmakers for a budget increase largely to combat the drug rings.

“They are taking over our neighborhoods,” said Kane, who provided no examples of specific cases. “They are more violent than the Colombian cartels.”

Kane told members of the Senate Appropriations Committee that she was “not an alarmist” but was “extremely alarmed” at the expansion of Mexican drug cartels in Southeastern Pennsylvania and across the state.

“It keeps me up at night,” Kane said.

Her calls for more money overshadowed questions about her decision last week to reject a contract Republican Gov. Tom Corbett pursued to put the state lottery under private management.

Kane, a Democrat, is seeking a $12.75 million increase in her $78 million agency budget. She said the office has 47 staff vacancies.

The governor's proposed state budget would provide flat funding for the office Corbett once led.

Kane had a map she said showed reported Mexican gang involvement in drug dealing, mostly along the Interstate 95 corridor. The gangs typically peddle methamphetamine, she said.

Later, her office provided news releases the Attorney General's Office issued in 2011 and 2012 alleging a marijuana ring in Snyder and Northumberland counties and a meth ring in Bucks County with origins in Mexico and Texas.

Kane's office also provided another news release about a Pittsburgh case prosecuted when Corbett was attorney general that dismantled an operation responsible for distributing $15 million worth of crack cocaine and heroin. In December 2009 and January 2010, authorities arrested suspects who relied on an Atlanta supplier with ties to a Mexican cocaine source.

Fox Chapel police Chief David Laux, who is president of the Allegheny County Chiefs of Police Association, said that so far he has had no contact with Mexican cartels, and he knows of no other departments in the area that have dealt with them.

“I checked with our narcotics guys, and we've had nothing that ties to Mexican drug cartels,” said Detective Brian Kohlhepp, spokesman for the Ross Police Department.

Corbett's flat budget proposal effectively means a $6 million cut because of rising costs, Kane told the committee. She said she needs that and $6.75 million to beef up prosecution of child predators and mobile crime units, said her First Deputy Adrian King.

The office had a 7.8 percent increase in salaries and benefits last year, driven by a new union contract, King said.

Committee Chairman Jake Corman, R-Centre County, said he believes many members would support boosting Kane's budget for battling cartels and Internet predators.

“It all depends on our revenue numbers,” Corman said.

Kane said the office brings in $454 million in seized assets annually.

Kane faced questions about her decision to reject the lottery contract but no real criticism.

“I think your decision is correct,” said Sen. Tommy Tomlinson, R-Bucks County, who helped write the state's 2004 casino law.

Adding games such as keno played on monitors, as Camelot Global Services PA proposed in its contract, would constitute an expansion of gambling that requires legislative approval, Tomlinson said.

The Corbett administration returned a $50 million security deposit to Camelot, the British-based firm that had been hired to manage the $3.5 billion Pennsylvania Lottery.

Camelot's bid to produce $34 billion in profits over 20 years expires on Friday.

State budget spokesman Jay Pagni said returning the deposit does not signal that the deal won't proceed.

Corbett is deciding whether to appeal Kane's decision in Commonwealth Court, Pagni said.

Democratic lawmakers and the union that represents lottery employees also are challenging the contract's legality in court. Camelot would have replaced many state employees who run the lottery.

Brad Bumsted is the stateCapitol reporter for Trib Total Media.He can be reached at 717-787-1405or bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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