Attorney General Kane criticizes, then uses, grand jury

Brad Bumsted
| Wednesday, March 2, 2016, 11:00 p.m.

HARRISBURG — To uncover decades of priest abuse in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, Attorney General Kathleen Kane used a statewide investigative grand jury, a device she sharply criticized in her 2012 campaign.

A key refrain in her political platform was that former Attorney General Tom Corbett took too long to bring criminal charges against child molester Jerry Sandusky, a former Penn State University assistant football coach. Kane contended grand juries slow investigations. She blasted Corbett's nearly three-year inquiry of Sandusky, who was convicted of 10 counts of child abuse in 2012.

Kane said she didn't use grand juries as an assistant district attorney in Lackawanna County in sexual assault cases and that one was unnecessary in the Sandusky case. Asked about her use of a grand jury in the two-year priest investigation, Kane said the panel played a critical role.

“The cover-up could not have been revealed without the grand jury subpoenas,” Kane said.

On Tuesday, she released a grand jury report that said hundreds of children were abused over 40 years by as many as 50 priests and religious leaders. Church officials perpetuated a cover-up to protect the church's image, Kane said. No arrests were made.

“The findings are horrific, explosive, and not surprising,” the Catholic Whistleblowers Steering Committee, an activist group, said Wednesday.

Kane's use of the grand jury in the priest case contradicts what she said in 2012, said Mike Barley, a former top campaign aide for Corbett, who served one term as governor from 2011 to 2015. It points out the “differences between campaigning and serving in office,” Barley said. What Kane found was “horrendous,” he said.

“Hopefully, Kathleen Kane has learned grand juries are useful tools in complicated child predator cases,” said Kevin Harley, who was press secretary to Corbett as attorney general and as governor. Grand juries let prosecutors compel testimony of reluctant witnesses and issue sealed search warrants.

“There's no contradiction,” said Kane spokesman Chuck Ardo. In the Sandusky case, Kane was concerned that using the grand jury allowed Sandusky to be free and potentially violate other children, he said. In the diocese case, Kane's office was able to work with church officials to “remove priests from positions where they had access to children,” Ardo said.

Kane, 49, of Scranton is the first woman and Democrat to be elected attorney general.

George Foster, 55, of Altoona, an executive with Lamar Advertising, who began looking into the priest abuse allegations long before an official investigation was under way, said whether or not Kane contradicted her campaign position, the report was still “a great step forward.” Foster's research became part of the investigation, and Kane called him a hero to the victims.

“She wasn't worried about embarrassment. She still did the right thing,” Foster said.

The grand jury cited one child being abused during confession. On another occasion, children stood together while they were abused. At least one victim committed suicide, the attorney general's office said. Victims reported feeling “black inside,” the grand jury report said.

Kane has faced adversity during the past two years.

In 2014, she took political heat for declining to prosecute six public officials from Philadelphia who were videotaped taking cash, and in one case, jewelry, from an undercover operative from the attorney general's office. Five were legislators, and one was a former traffic court judge. The investigation begun under Corbett led to five guilty pleas. The sixth case is pending.

Kane faces criminal charges of perjury, obstruction of justice and official oppression for allegedly leaking a grand jury document in an effort to embarrass a critic. Her trial is set for August. Kane maintains her innocence.

Sandusky, meanwhile, is serving a 30- to 60-year prison term.

As she pledged to do during her campaign, Kane in 2013 launched an internal investigation into why it took 33 months to arrest Sandusky. The report by then-Widener Law School professor Geoffrey Moulton found that although mistakes were made, there was no evidence Corbett slow-walked the investigation. Moulton, a former federal prosecutor, wrote it was not a mistake for Corbett to use a grand jury.

Brad Bumsted is the Tribune-Review's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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