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Attorney General Kane's fall from stardom to scandal fast, hard

| Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015, 11:30 p.m.
Kathleen Kane announces her victory for the Democratic nomination for attorney general on Tuesday, April 24, 2012, at The Radisson Lackawanna Station Hotel in Scranton.
Kane hired former federal prosecutor Geoffrey Moulton to review the Sandusky case.
Kane later successfully petitioned the Supreme Court to remove Judge Barry Feudale from supervising a statewide grand jury.
The (Scranton) Times-Tribune
Patrick Reese
Brad Bumsted | Trib Total Media
Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane arrives to be processed and arraigned on Saturday, Aug. 8, 2015, at the Montgomery County detective bureau in Norristown.
Judge John Cleland presided over the Jerry Sandusky trial.
J. Whyatt Mondesire, former president of the Pennsylvania NAACP
Brad Bumsted | Trib Total Media
Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane speaks at a news conference on Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2015, in Harrisburg.

HARRISBURG — In less than three years, Attorney General Kathleen Kane went from a bright star in Pennsylvania politics to a criminal defendant clinging to office.

As she awaits trial on 12 counts, including perjury and official oppression, and the Senate's decision whether to try to remove her, Kane continues to war with others: prosecutors, judges and top aides.

“Every time you think you've reached a crescendo of weird angles with Kathleen Kane, something new comes along that says you're wrong,” said Chris Borick, political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown.

Kane, 49, the first woman and Democrat elected as the state's chief law enforcement officer, cannot practice law because the Supreme Court suspended her license. Her senior staff cannot take orders from her involving legal matters. Her top security aide, Patrick Reese, is awaiting trial on charges of illegally spying on employees emails at her behest.

Even the state's top Democrat, Gov. Tom Wolf, wants her to quit. But she won't.

Kane appears driven by “issues of power, trust and getting retribution,” said Kyle Kopko, a political science professor at Elizabethtown College.

Kane's astonishing descent could rank as one of the worst scandals for a statewide officeholder, even eclipsing the demise of former Attorney General Ernie Preate, a Republican who resigned and served 11 months in federal prison 15 years ago for hiding contributions from video poker owners.

The tumult even transfers to private life.

Her marriage to Christopher Kane — whose family gave her $2 million in campaign loans and donations — fell apart. She filed for divorce in December. In August, she told their teenage sons Christopher and Zach about her public battles: “I made a promise that I was going to finish a job and that I was going to do it. ... I hope that if you're faced with a fight, you get in there and fight.”

Though she began with promise as the leading vote-getter in November 2012, Kane crashed faster and harder than any official in Pennsylvania's recent history.

Fear and paranoia run deep at the agency, said C.C. Parker, a former agent. Employees worry that their emails and phones are monitored. At least 38 prosecutors, supervisors, agents and support staffers have been fired, forced to resign, or quit voluntarily since Kane took office.

“The Office of Attorney General is dysfunctional at this point,” said Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli, a Kane supporter until recently. Morganelli, who may run for the office next year, said “damage is being done to the foundation of Pennsylvania's criminal justice system. Public confidence in the (office) as well as in our judges and courts is being eroded. I never imagined it could get so bad.”

It began to unravel almost from the start, when Kane singled out Frank Fina, star prosecutor for her Republican predecessor Tom Corbett.

Kane campaigned to clean up an “old-boys' network” in Harrisburg and investigate why it took almost three years for Corbett to arrest serial child predator Jerry Sandusky, the retired assistant football coach at Penn State. Fina stood out as the symbol to her on both issues, said G. Terry Madonna, a political science professor at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster: “Frank Fina became her obsession.”

She could have ignored Fina; he landed a job with Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams before Kane's swearing-in. But within 14 months of her taking office, Fina and Williams would be her primary foes. “This is war,” she emailed an aide.

Kane started a successful first year pushing back against Corbett, then the governor. She hired a deputy to review the Sandusky case; his investigators found, amid deleted computer files, thousands of staffers' emails with pornography and insensitive jokes.

Kane refused to approve Corbett's plan to privatize state lottery management, and refused to defend the state law banning gay marriage. That sparked outrage among conservatives but electrified her Democratic base. Political pundits mentioned her as a potential candidate for governor, U.S. Senate — maybe one day, president.

Then, on March 16, 2014, the Philadelphia Inquirer published a story detailing how Kane declined to prosecute Democratic lawmakers and an ex-Philadelphia judge who were videotaped accepting cash and jewlery from an undercover operative. She blamed Fina for leaking the information. She vowed to “make Seth pay” when he later prosecuted the so-called “sting cases.”

Kane's attorneys later would argue that Fina and his colleague Marc Costanzo “corruptly manufactured” the criminal investigation of her to protect the fact that they viewed pornography while working as state prosecutors.

Kane dubbed those investigating her “angry Republican men.” Her effort to expose pornography in state government is part of her legal defense.

Some emails she made public cost then-current and former Corbett employees and a Supreme Court justice their jobs.

Now she is sparring with a former grand jury judge she recommended for removal in 2013. Kane sent Northumberland County Judge Barry Feudale's emails to the Judicial Conduct Board, claiming his “overriding concern was how to leak sealed Supreme Court documents without getting caught.”

Feudale contends Kane committed ethical and criminal violations, and was behind an unauthorized entry of his chambers in which documents disappeared.

“I think she has internalized the campaign,” said Wes Leckrone, a political science professor at Widener University in Chester. “‘If I've been elected to clean up this mess of the old-boys' network, then it's my responsibility to do it, regardless of the political consequences.' I don't think she is a bad person. I don't think she thinks she's lying.”

Kopko acknowledges “it's tough to keep track” of events that have ensued.

Here's a primer on Kane's tenure:

2012: Big pledge, big win

April 24: Kathleen Kane, a Temple University Law School grad and former Lackawanna County assistant district attorney, won the Democratic nomination for attorney general. She earned Bill Clinton's endorsement, having coordinated Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential primary campaign in northeast Pennsylvania.

Over summer, she campaigned with pledges to root out corruption and determine whether politics tainted Tom Corbett's handling of the Jerry Sandusky case.

Nov. 6: Kane won the general election with 3.1 million votes, beating Republican David Freed, the Cumberland County district attorney.

2013: Immediate clashes

Chief Deputy Attorney General Frank Fina, who led legislative corruption cases and the Sandusky case, resigned after Kane's election but stayed through her first three days on the job to brief her on open cases.

Jan 16: The day after Kane's inauguration, Fina came to work to find his computer wouldn't work. Techs discovered his hard drive was missing.

Jan. 17: Kane signed an oath to keep current and older grand jury cases confidential. Two years later detectives seized the document and compared it to her testimony before a grand jury, in which she claimed no obligation to secrecy for cases before her arrival because she had not signed an oath.

Feb. 4: Kane hired former federal prosecutorGeoffrey Moulton to review the Sandusky case. More than a year later, Moulton found no evidence that Corbett delayed the investigation while campaigning for governor. Moulton's review uncovered deleted emails between staffers, judges, police officers and others.

May 17: Judge Barry Feudale, who supervised a statewide grand jury, returned to his Harrisburg office after four days away and could not find three files he had left on his desk. He reported them stolen to Capitol Police, who found no signs of a break-in. The attorney general leases and staffs grand jury judge's offices.

Kane later successfully petitioned the Supreme Court to remove Feudale from the grand jury, arguing he was too close to Fina and had flashed a knife, which he denies.

2014: Topsy-turvy times

March 16: The Philadelphia Inquirer revealed Kane shut down Fina's bribery investigation of Philadelphia politicians. The case was “poorly conceived, badly managed and tainted by racism,” she claimed. She called the newspaper's anonymous sources “cowardly.”

Behind the scenes, Kane emailed a press aide: “I will not allow them to discredit me or this office. ... This is war.”

March 20: Kane visited the Inquirer's editorial board accompanied by libel attorney Richard Sprague, who did almost all the talking, the newspaper said.

March 25: During a meeting with senior staff, Kane received a transcript of an interview about a 2009 investigation of former Philadelphia NAACP head J. Whyatt Mondesire, whom Fina did not prosecute. Kane flipped through the folder and put it on the table, a witness told the grand jury. It was the only copy Special Agent David Peifer had brought to the meeting.

That day, investigators say, Kane's bodyguard Patrick Reese illegally gained access to a closely-guarded system that automatically saves all office emails. Reese, 48, former Dunmore police chief, is charged with contempt, accused of monitoring the criminal investigation of Kane. She has said he will stay on the job.

Early April: Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams challenged Kane to let him take over the bribery investigation. Williams eventually charged six people, four of whom pleaded guilty.

April 22: Kane asked First Deputy Adrian King to take a sealed envelope to her political adviser Josh Morrow in Philadelphia. She told Morrow to deliver the envelope to a Philadelphia Daily News reporter, saying it involved Fina's decision to shut down the Mondesire investigation. Morrow delivered a transcript, two emails and a memo.

Three days later, when Kane asked Morrow to gather negative information about Williams, Morrow declined.

May 8: Fina and Marc Costanzo, another former state prosecutor working for Williams, write to grand jury Judge William Carpenter in Norristown after a Daily News reporter contacts them about the Mondesire documents. The prosecutors suspect leaked grand jury information but do not name Kane.

June 6: The Daily News published a detailed story about the investigation into Mondesire's finances, citing the four-page memo and 26-page transcript from an interview of Agent Michael Miletto about the investigation.

July 29: A statewide grand jury in Norristown began collecting evidence of how secret grand jury information made it to the press.

Sept. 9: Carpenter issued an order to protect employees of Kane's office from retaliation for testifying to a grand jury. Reese and Peifer, however, continued to search for emails related to the investigation and emails between employees and reporters.

Oct. 1: The Morning Call of Allentown published a story about pornographic emails exchanged between Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffrey and a friend in the attorney general's office. The story began a cascade of bad news for the judiciary involving racially and sexually explicit emails, and led to McCaffrey's suspension. He retired Oct. 27.

Kane in late September had released other emails involving Republicans who worked for Corbett. Several resigned or lost their jobs.

Oct. 21: Kane is injured in a mysterious accident in Dunmore when her SUV, driven by a former Dunmore police officer, hit a parked car in a 15 mph zone. She and Reese were in the back seat. The police report saying she wore a seat belt was later changed at Kane's request.

Her injuries prevented her from appearing before the grand jury investigating her in Montgomery County.

Nov. 17: Kane testified to the grand jury that she never saw the 2009 memo about the Mondesire investigation and denied knowing anything about how Morrow got the documents from King in April. Top aides and phone records contradicted her testimony, laying the foundation of a felony perjury charge.

Kane insisted that information given to the Daily News was not covered by grand jury secrecy. She testified that she had told King the Mondesire investigation should be made public.

Dec. 12: Kane, attending the Pennsylvania Society in Manhattan, acknowledged some “bumps in the road” from legal and political challenges but pledged to finish her term and run for re-election in 2016. “I've done nothing wrong,” she told the Tribune-Review.

2015: A criminal defendant

Jan. 22: The grand jury investigating Kane released a report recommending ways to stop grand jury leaks.

Feb. 18: Saying the “truth is crying to be heard,” Carpenter disclosed that the grand jury in December recommended charging Kane criminally.

April 1: Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman began an investigation of Kane and her confidante Reese, at Carpenter's request.

April 8: Kane fired James Barker, the chief deputy who led appeals and statewide grand juries. He had testified under the protective order. Kane's office cited a “reorganization.” Barker sued six months later, claiming Kane violated his civil rights with a retaliatory firing.

June 24: Kane fired George Moore, a human resources officer who recommended she fire her chief of staff, Jonathan Deucker, because of two sexual harassment complaints against him. Deucker, the Trib later reported, drove a seized Mercedes Benz SUV as his state car, despite state prohibitions against non-investigative use of such vehicles, and taxpayers paid $6,000 in repair bills for him.

Aug. 6: Ferman charged Kane with perjury, false swearing, obstructing justice, abuse of office and official oppression.

Two days later, Kane arrived for her arraignment with five burly agents who blocked reporters and photographers as she walked to the courthouse steps. Asked whether she selected the phalanx of large agents to shield her from the public eye, her spokesman blamed a threat from Mexican drug cartels.

Aug. 12: Kane told the Capitol press corps her defense “will not be that I am the victim of some old-boys' network. It will be that I broke no laws of the commonwealth, period.” She went on to describe her prosecution as a conspiracy by powerful people who didn't want their pornographic emails to come to light.

Kane urged Judge Carpenter to approve the release of emails her office held. The Supreme Court, however, had told Kane she could do so. When she would not, the court released 398 pages of the emails.

Sept. 17: Ferman's detectives raided Kane's office, seizing documents and a notary's log book. The documents show Kane lied to a grand jury, the Supreme Court, and the public, prosecutors said. Ferman again charged Kane with perjury, false swearing and obstruction of justice.

Sept. 21: The Supreme Court said it would suspend Kane's law license. Kane tasked two deputies to delve into old grand jury files — to comply with an order from an unspecified court to provide material that might be related to judicial misconduct, her spokesman said.

Oct. 22: Kane loses her law license. The next day, the state Senate formed a committee to determine within 30 days whether she can continue to hold office.

Oct. 28: Judge Feudale accused Kane of being behind the theft of his files more than two years earlier. Kane responded by releasing emails between Feudale, his lawyers and two reporters about leaking a confidential Supreme Court order that removed him from the grand jury.

Oct. 29: Senior Judge John Cleland, who presided over Sandusky's trial, stunned his courtroom during motions for Sandusky's appeal by ordering Kane to deliver to him by Nov. 4 any information proving that Feudale or prosecutors leaked sealed information from the case.

Brad Bumsted and Mike Wereschagin are Trib Total Media staff writers.

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