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Philly DA says no affidavits claimed by AG Kane in bribery case existed

| Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014, 11:45 p.m.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane, accompanied by attorney Gerald Shargel, a reads a statement to reporters on Monday, Nov. 17, 2014, upon arriving to testify before a state grand jury near Norristown.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane, accompanied by attorney Gerald Shargel, a reads a statement to reporters on Monday, Nov. 17, 2014, upon arriving to testify before a state grand jury near Norristown.
The $2,000 Tiffany & Co. bracelet an ex-Traffic Court judge in Philadelphia is accused of accepting as a bribe.
The $2,000 Tiffany & Co. bracelet an ex-Traffic Court judge in Philadelphia is accused of accepting as a bribe.
Rep. Ronald Waters, 191st Legislative District, Delaware and Philadelphia counties
Rep. Ronald Waters, 191st Legislative District, Delaware and Philadelphia counties
Vanessa Lowery Brown is a Democratic member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from the 190th District.
Vanessa Lowery Brown is a Democratic member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from the 190th District.
Rep. Michelle Brownlee, 195th Legislative District, Philadelphia County
Rep. Michelle Brownlee, 195th Legislative District, Philadelphia County
Rep. Louise Williams Bishop, 192nd Legislative District, Philadelphia County
Rep. Louise Williams Bishop, 192nd Legislative District, Philadelphia County
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams speaks after a news conference on Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014.
Brad Bumsted | Trib Total Media
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams speaks after a news conference on Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014.

HARRISBURG — To prove that an investigation of state legislators was racist and too weak to prosecute, Attorney General Kathleen Kane cited key internal documents but never provided them to a Philadelphia grand jury, city prosecutors said.

“I can tell you now, there were no affidavits. The evidence indicates they never existed,” Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said when he charged two lawmakers of bribery and other crimes Tuesday.

Spokeswoman Renee Martin said Kane would not comment beyond an earlier statement that prosecutors “disagree all the time” about the merits of cases.

Williams charged Democratic Reps. Ronald Waters, 64, and Vanessa Lowery Brown, 48, based on the grand jury investigation of a case Kane declined to prosecute. Waters and Brown admitted trading promises of influence for cash during appearances before the grand jury, Williams said.

Waters took $8,750 in nine cash payments from an undercover lobbyist who videotaped their meetings. Brown accepted $4,000 in five payments.

On Wednesday, ex-Philadelphia Traffic Court Judge Thomasine Tynes, 71, pleaded guilty to conflict of interest in an agreement with city prosecutors. The informant recorded her accepting a $2,000 Tiffany bracelet.

Tynes, sentenced earlier to two years in federal prison for perjury in an unrelated ticket-fixing scandal, can serve her 11½- to 23-month state sentence concurrently, meaning no added prison time, a Common Pleas Court judge said.

Williams would not comment on Reps. Michelle Brownlee, 58, and Louise Bishop, 81, also Democrats, saying the investigation continues.

“This case was ripe all along, but Kane decided she wasn't going to prosecute it,” said Wes Leckrone, a political science professor at Widener University in Chester. It's not clear why, he said.

In its report, the Philadelphia grand jury said it “had some difficulty understanding the concern” that Kane expressed about the informant's role, noting “he was hardly the linchpin of the case” corroborated by extensive video and audio tapes and interviews.

The jurors questioned Kane's “comprehensive” review of the case, saying she never shared documents despite subpoenas until Oct. 31, months after it began its investigation. Kane's office repeatedly assured the grand jury it had received all relevant information, but then would produce materials “upon judicial intervention.”

“Each new document dump, of course, indicated that the prior representations had been false,” the grand jury said.

The panel said Kane never examined internal documents and did not interview agents or others with knowledge about the sting.

In an April 10 news conference, Kane claimed that Claude Thomas, the lead agent on the sting investigation, told other agents that he was directed to focus only on the Legislative Black Caucus.

“He told us that. Our special agent put that in a note in his case notes and did an affidavit to that effect,” Kane said at the time. “That is the evidence that we have.” Thomas, who is black, denied her assertion.

The investigation began in 2010 under Gov. Tom Corbett, then the attorney general, and concluded before Kane took office in January 2013. A Philadelphia Inquirer story exposed it in March. Williams impaneled a grand jury in June when Kane turned over the case.

The hard-hitting report likely hurts Kane “tremendously,” said Kyle Kopko, a political science professor at Elizabethtown College. “It calls into question the attorney general's judgment.”

It comes as she awaits a statewide grand jury report in Montgomery County on whether she violated grand jury secrecy by providing 2009 documents to the Philadelphia Daily News, apparently to try to embarrass former state prosecutor Frank Fina, with whom she is feuding. Fina directed the sting case for the attorney general and now works for Williams.

“It's a parade of horribles for the Attorney General's Office,” Kopko said.

Yet how Kane's political career might fare in the long run remains to be seen, said Moe Coleman, director emeritus of the Institute of Politics at the University of Pittsburgh. “Right now she looks really bad,” Coleman said.

The grand jury rejected all of Kane's arguments for not prosecuting Tynes and four lawmakers — racism, entrapment, and the informant's credibility. She said the case was flawed, but “it was the review, rather than the underlying investigation, that appeared flawed,” the grand jury said.

What hurts is criticism from “a fellow prosecutor, who is also a Democrat and an African-American,” Leckrone said.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com. Staff writer Adam Smeltz contributed to this report.

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