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State Attorney General Kane: No political agenda in killing Dems case

| Sunday, March 16, 2014, 11:09 p.m.

HARRISBURG — Attorney General Kathleen Kane on Sunday explained why her office did not prosecute Philadelphia lawmakers targeted by an investigation, noting the vast majority of audio recordings implicating them with taking cash and gifts were made 18 months before she took office and that previous prosecutors didn't proceed with charges.

“The case was dead when it came to our office,” Kane said in an interview with the Tribune-Review. “It was nonprosecutable. There was nothing we could do with it. It sat around for 18 months. There was no way you'd bring that case. Three attorneys general declined to prosecute it.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that people close to the investigation said Kane killed a solid investigation against fellow Democrats. Kane sharply disagreed.

Prosecutors had no reasonable suspicion that crimes occurred and the investigation featured “shoddy police work” and very little supervision of the confidential informant, a lobbyist who wore a wire to meetings with officials, Kane said. Her office said the lawmakers “were alleged to have impermissibly accepted cash payments” from the informant, but evidence failed to establish a quid pro quo.

The four lawmakers are members of the Black Caucus. Kane said they might have been unfairly targeted because of race. She claimed the agent on the case was told to “focus only on members of the General Assembly's Black Caucus.”

The case had no corroborating evidence, she said, and about three weeks after she was elected, but before she took office, then-Chief Deputy Frank Fina gave the informant “the deal of the century.” The informant's cooperation was secured in an agreement that resulted in the dismissal of 2,033 criminal charges connected to defrauding a charity “that feeds poor kids and seniors,” Kane said.

The deal “crippled the chance of this case succeeding in prosecution,” she said, noting defense attorneys would have shredded it after the only witness walked away from more than 2,000 charges.

Fina could not be reached. The Inquirer quoted people “close to” the black agent denying the statement about race targeting. The agent now works for the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, where Fina went after Kane was elected.

Fina was a key prosecutor in the conviction of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, who is serving a 30-year prison term for child molestation. Kane is investigating how Sandusky was investigated and whether politics played a role under Gov. Tom Corbett, then the attorney general. Corbett has denied telling anyone to slow the investigation to get past the November 2010 election. The charges against Sandusky and firing of the late head coach Joe Paterno, a football legend, triggered chaos on campus.

Kane wouldn't comment on any connection between questions about the pay-off investigation and the report she is compiling on the Sandusky case.

She would not say when that report will be released. “We're completing our interviews in (the Sandusky case),” she said.

She denied giving a pass to Democrats and released a list of corruption cases, including the charges filed last week against Sen. LeAnna Washington, a black Philadelphia Democrat accused of using her state office resources for campaign work.

“My record speaks for itself that prosecutions have no political agenda,” Kane said. “Of the 11 public corruption cases we have brought so far, the majority involve Democrats. I will not sit back and allow lies from those who seek to destroy the public's trust in me or my office.”

Dressed casually in jeans with a few staffers around her in her office, she was annoyed she spent the day responding to criticism about the investigation.

She noted Corbett, a Republican from Shaler, is one of three prosecutors who had the audio evidence and didn't prosecute. The others were acting Attorney General Bill Ryan of Delaware County and Linda Kelly of Edgewood, whom Corbett appointed to succeed him after he was elected governor. Though she wasn't required to, Kane said she ran the evidence past federal investigators and Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico. They told her the case could not be successfully prosecuted, Kane said.

Marsico said the investigation had been inactive for some time, and the informant said he would not meet with him.

“Now, there were recordings also, but if we have an informant who is getting some serious charges dismissed, who also wouldn't talk to us, that basically left us with nothing to go on,” Marsico said.

Kane said Bruce Beemer, who served as chief of staff to Kelly, was not aware of the investigation involving the informant and the Philadelphia officials.

Kelly and Beemer could not be reached. Beemer, a former deputy Allegheny County district attorney, conducted a thorough investigation that included a review of 113 recordings, she said.

About 30 recordings were conducted while Corbett was attorney general, 49 were conducted under Ryan and 24 under Kelly. The last was recorded nine months before Kane took office.

Lawyers involved in the case are under a gag order. Kane said she got permission from a Common Pleas judge, whom she would not name, to speak so “I could defend myself.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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