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Kane supports Trib's request to open court records in sting operation

| Wednesday, April 2, 2014, 1:09 p.m.
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Tyron B. Ali, a former Philadelphia day-care president, became an informant posing as a lobbyist in a sting on Pennsylvania lawmakers.

HARRISBURG — Attorney General Kathleen Kane will file court papers in support of the Tribune-Review's request to open sealed records from a sting operation against Philadelphia lawmakers, her office said on Wednesday.

“I applaud the Tribune-Review's motion to unseal the records to allow the public to see all the information, and will be filing a response in support of the newspaper's motion,” Kane said. “All of the facts will show the public that this investigation, left over from three previous administrations, was critically flawed and could not have been prosecuted.”

Kane's office said the document was not filed by the end of the day.

The Trib on Monday asked a Dauphin County judge for permission to intervene and attempt to open records in the case involving five Democratic officials who accepted cash from a confidential informant for the attorney general's office. Four are legislators. The informant, Tyron B. Ali, wore a wire and recorded the encounters.

President Judge Todd Hoover on Tuesday unsealed the Trib's motion, giving Kane and Ali's attorney, Robert Levant, five days to respond.

Levant declined to comment.

House leaders from both political parties on Wednesday imposed a ban on cash gifts. The Bipartisan Management Committee acted in response to the scandal involving the legislators and a former traffic court judge, which The Philadelphia Inquirer reported last month.

The Senate expects to take up a gift ban as soon as next week.

Lawmakers must report gifts in the aggregate of more than $250 and hospitality of $650 or more. They must report gifts of larger amounts on financial disclosure statements filed with the state ethics commission. No specific prohibition against cash exists.

As the new House policy was being distributed through a one-page memo, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie McGinty held a news conference at the Capitol calling for a gift ban for all state elected officials and employees.

McGinty said public indignation over the scandal is at a “fever pitch,” resulting in a “tipping point” for broad legislative action to prohibit gifts — except for those from close family members and established friends who are not lobbyists or doing business with the state.

The House rule would not cover all gifts, even debit cards or gift cards, which are virtually cash equivalents.

“The immediate need was to address cash,” said Stephen Miskin, a House Republican spokesman. “We expect more to come at some point.”

Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, speaking at a Harrisburg hotel after addressing an early childhood learning conference, said he supports a ban on cash gifts.

“I was stunned that somebody would actually accept cash and, if they just reported it, would be OK,” Corbett said. “Certainly, that can't be allowed. Or gift cards.”

If Hoover grants the Trib's motion, the newspaper will push for unsealing of criminal court documents in the state's case against Ali. Prosecutors used a fraud case as leverage to gain his cooperation as an informant. The state had 2,088 charges against the former day care center operator for scamming the Department of Education.

Kane dropped the charges, saying a deal struck with Ali and his lawyer before she took office gave her no choice.

Other newspapers, including The Philadelphia Inquirer, followed the Trib's motion to unseal the case.

The extraordinarily lenient plea deal with Ali undermined his credibility as a witness, Kane has said. She has said that Bruce Beemer, former chief of staff to ex-Attorney General Linda Kelly, was unaware of the investigation. Beemer heads the criminal division for Kane.

Kelly told the Trib that in cases in which no charges were filed, though prosecution may have been contemplated, it was her policy “to not discuss or make statements in a public forum” about an investigation, its targets or witnesses.

That's in “deference to the rights of individuals who might be subject to charges” and to “not interfere with or compromise” due process in a court.

“Therefore, I have no comment on a case that has not been charged,” Kelly said. Asked if she knew about the sting operation, she said: “I can only say the statement speaks for itself.”

A 2012 memo the Trib obtained about a long-range plan for the sting was addressed to Kelly and other senior prosecutors.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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