Philly DA Williams won't give state Attorney General Kane a pass
HARRISBURG — Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams on Friday told Attorney General Kathleen Kane that he cannot promise he won't look into her handling of a legislative sting case as a condition of getting her to give him the case file.
“You state you will grant me access only if I am able to satisfy you that I will not engage in any evaluation of your actions in reviewing this investigation. You have no authority under the law to establish any such pre-condition,” Williams wrote in a letter to Kane, a copy of which the Tribune-Review obtained.
Williams suggested Kane was insincere when she offered him the case file because she since has established several obstacles to keep him from reviewing the evidence.
“Despite all your statements to the contrary, you have now declared that you are not willing to send me the case materials you had so strenuously invited me to review,” said Williams. “You have offered a variety of rationales for this refusal. Unfortunately these rationales are unsound.”
Neither Kane nor her spokesman could be reached.
Williams reiterated that he has no conflicts of interest in the case, even though two lawmakers who endorsed him are among the five Philadelphia Democrats who took cash and jewelry from the state's undercover informant, Tyron Ali. The sting operation ran from 2010 to 2012 under Kane's predecessors.
Williams suggested that Kane wants no evaluation of her actions in dismissing the case.
The first female Democrat elected to the office, Kane last year declined to prosecute the public officials recorded taking cash and a $2,000 bracelet from Ali, who was a lobbyist. She claimed the case was legally flawed.
Williams said Kane suggested he was “legally barred” from access to the evidence by Pennsylvania's wiretap act and another law on criminal record history. He said they have “concurrent jurisdiction over the crimes in question.”
He noted Kane has publicly stated that the evidence shows crimes were committed. He said he cannot independently evaluate aspects of the case “without considering the conclusions and conduct of a fellow prosecutor.”
Endorsements in 2009 from Reps. Ron Waters and Vanessa Brown don't prevent him from potentially prosecuting the case, Williams said.
He noted that Sen. LeAnna Washington, a Philadelphia Democrat whom Kane is prosecuting for misusing public resources for campaigns, had donated $1,000 to Kane's campaign in 2012.
Williams also denied any conflict involving him and Ali, noting that Kane asserted that Ali had recorded him.
“I am unaware of any such recording, and I call on you to demonstrate that one exists,” Williams said.
Williams shrugged off Ali's approach a few years ago at a social gathering, an investigator said on Friday.
Claude Thomas, the agent who oversaw Ali's sting investigation and now works for Williams, said his records show Ali never recorded his encounter with Williams at Rep. Louise Bishop's gathering in January 2011. Bishop is one of four lawmakers on tape accepting cash from Ali.
Williams and Ali may have talked about cigars, several sources suggest. The Jan. 1, 2011, gathering at Bishop's house was a “meet and greet,” not a fundraiser, Thomas said. Bishop introduced Ali to Williams.
Thomas recalls Ali leaving the event agitated “because Seth blew him off.” Ali believed Williams showed him disrespect, he said.
Asked earlier about Thomas' account of the encounter between Ali and Williams, Kane's spokesman J.J. Abbott said: “I think we've been clear that we can't talk about the evidence.”
To verify his records, Thomas said, he spoke with Ali on Friday.
“I assure you there were none,” said Thomas, a former state trooper and attorney general's agent. “It would have been in the report.”
Typically, Ali wore recording equipment only on days he would be offering money or gifts, Thomas said.
Prosecutors made Ali an informant after charging him in 2009 with defrauding the Education Department through a day care center he operated. To establish himself with politicians as a lobbyist, sources said, Ali chatted up or offered gifts to about 51 lawmakers, city officials and lobbyists.
Kane dropped charges against Ali last year under a deal set up two months before she took office.
The case was mishandled, she said.
“The consensual recordings are the only evidence of alleged wrongdoing by the various state legislators, and the (informant) is the only witness that can offer testimony regarding such recordings on behalf of the prosecution,” Kane said last month. “... Quality control measures were wholly lacking, with respect to the consensual recordings. The evidence developed was inconsistent, underdeveloped and lacked focus.”
Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or firstname.lastname@example.org.