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Lawyers seek dismissal of bribery charges against former Democratic leader

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State Senate Minority Leader Bob Mellow, D-Lackawanna, has been charge with six others in the pay-to-play case at the turnpike.

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Friday, June 20, 2014, 10:53 p.m.
 

HARRISBURG — Defense attorneys for former Senate Democratic leader Bob Mellow cite Attorney General Kathleen Kane's comments in the legislative sting case as reason to dismiss commercial bribery charges against Mellow in the turnpike corruption case.

A motion filed by Scranton lawyers Sal Cognetti Jr. and Daniel T. Brier in Dauphin County Court this week argues that the bribery charges should be tossed because there's no evidence that Mellow, of Lackawanna County, took official action in return for gratuities.

“The attorney general herself made it clear that the critical criminal element of a bribery offense is a quid-pro-quo: money in exchange for official action,” they wrote.

J.J. Abbott, Kane's spokesman, said her office would not comment.

Laurel Brandstetter, the senior deputy attorney general handling the case, will file a brief in response next month.

Brier raised the issue in court in April, calling it the “Kane Doctrine.”

From a legal standpoint, “prosecutors are not required to be consistent,” said Duquesne University Law School professor Wes Oliver. “So while it might make a prosecutor look bad to be treating similar defendants differently, this is not a legal argument that could lead to a dismissal.”

Kane made the quid-pro-quo argument in March when explaining her decision, in an unrelated case, not to prosecute five Philadelphia officials who took cash from a former lobbyist-turned-undercover informant. She cited numerous other legal reasons for declining the case.

The informant videotaped exchanges with four Democratic state House members and an ex-traffic court judge. After a public feud over the case, Kane turned the evidence over to Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams.

Williams on Wednesday took the unusual step of announcing that he was presenting the sting case to a Philadelphia grand jury to decide whether charges should be filed.

Mellow has been charged with six others in the pay-to-play case at the turnpike. A grand jury alleged influence peddling and bid-rigging on state contracts.

Mellow faces several charges besides bribery. He has served time in prison on federal charges for using state resources for campaigns; he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and was sentenced to 16 months.

At issue in the state case is bond work that Mellow allegedly obtained for a PNC Bank subsidiary, in return for gratuities that included trips to Yankees games, limo rides and dinners in Manhattan. His former top aide, Anthony Lepore, admitted that he intervened to help PNC get the work at Mellow's behest, but said it was not in return for compensation.

Lepore testified that PNC was the largest national bank based in the state and a major employer in Mellow's Senate district.

Moreover, Mellow's attorneys argue the PNC official was a close personal friend of the former senator and they took turns paying for baseball-related trips.

Mellow's lawyers raise myriad objections to the charges.

“There is no crime and there is no basis to proceed any further with this flawed, vindictive and unconstitutional prosecution,” the lawyers wrote.

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

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