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State police could take legislative sting evidence to Philly DA

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Monday, April 21, 2014, 2:36 p.m.
 

HARRISBURG — State police Commissioner Frank Noonan has agreed to accept evidence in a legislative sting case -- if Attorney General Kathleen Kane provides it -- and forward it to Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, a spokeswoman said on Monday.

Williams will consider filing charges against lawmakers who were recorded accepting cash once he reviews the case, said Tasha Jamerson, his press secretary.

But Jamerson said Williams hasn't heard from Kane's office since she challenged him almost two weeks ago to take the case.

Renee Martin, a Kane staffer, said the office had no comment.

Kane, the first Democrat elected to the office, last year declined to prosecute five Philadelphia Democrats, one of them an ex-traffic court judge, who authorities say accepted cash and jewelry from an undercover informant posing as a lobbyist. She contends the case was legally flawed.

Four of those recorded by former informant Tyron B. Ali were state House members. In all, he paid about $22,000 to public officials in the sting, Kane said.

Maria Finn, spokeswoman for Noonan, confirmed he would take the evidence from Kane and provide it to Williams. That's a routine function that state police perform, to ensure “chain of custody,” Finn said.

“It's very strange,” Jack Treadway, former chairman of the political science department at Kutztown University, said of the Kane-Williams dispute. “She better have some pretty good evidence” why she didn't prosecute, he said. “I'd go to court, even to lose. It plays into the perception she was protecting people in her own party.”

Treadway speaks as an outsider, noting he doesn't know what Kane did or did not do.

The public's perception was that “she did so many things right” in 2013, her first year, Treadway said. “She was a superstar. This seems to unravel all of that.”

In Kane's defense, former Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, an ex-Philadelphia district attorney, has said any suggestion that Kane engaged in political favoritism “is clearly belied by her track record,” including the indictment of state Sen. LeAnna Washington, D-Philadelphia, for allegedly forcing office staff to do campaign work.

In a letter dated Thursday, Williams asked Kane for “all original documents and recordings, and all related internal memorandums, correspondence and emails.”

Williams, who is black, has dismissed Kane's assertion that there may have been racial profiling in the case that was overseen by former Chief Deputy Attorney General Frank Fina and lead agent Claude Thomas.

Thomas has said he was never asked to target blacks and would not have done so.

An internal document the Tribune-Review obtained suggests Ali approached a racially diverse group of lawmakers, lobbyists and other state officials.

Fina, Thomas and E. Marc Costanzo, another former state prosecutor connected to the case, work for Williams.

Kane has cited other reasons for dropping the case, including a deal for Ali that dismissed 2,088 fraud-related charges against him, saying that undercut his credibility as a witness. Fina signed a cooperative agreement with Ali before Kane took office, and she approved dismissal of the charges.

Kane's repeated criticism makes the case “damaged goods,” Williams has said, but he'll determine whether it can move forward.

On Monday, Harrisburg activist Gene Stilp made good on his vow to file a private criminal complaint against three of the legislators — Reps. Ron Waters, Vanessa Brown and Michelle Brownlee — for taking cash from Ali. Stilp has said he would not file charges against Rep. Louise Bishop because she is 80.

A district attorney must approve Stilp's complaint for it to proceed. Stilp filed in Philadelphia, but Williams' office referred it to the Dauphin County district attorney since Stilp's written complaint does not mention Philadelphia. Stilp could appeal to court if District Attorney Ed Marsico doesn't approve prosecuting the case.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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