House panel retains law firm in probe of 4 Democrats accused of taking cash from lobbyist
HARRISBURG — The House ethics committee hired a law firm as “independent counsel” to aid its apparent investigation of four Philadelphia Democratic legislators who were recorded taking cash from an undercover informant, state records show.
The panel's contract with Fox Rothschild LLP doesn't specify work on the legislative sting case, but citizen activist Gene Stilp, who filed a complaint with the committee, said on Tuesday he received correspondence suggesting an investigation is “clearly under way.”
The committee, largely inactive in modern history, approved the contract posted on the state Treasury webpage. The contract approves hourly rates for Fox Rothschild lawyers from $200 for associates, $375 for junior partners and $425 for lead lawyer Patrick Egan of Philadelphia.
“I'm not allowed to comment,” said Egan, co-chair of the firm's white-collar compliance and defense practice.
Legislative leaders of both parties said they would provide sufficient money for an investigation. The committee, composed of four Democrats and four Republicans, is chaired by Rep. Scott Petri, R-Bucks County, and bound by secrecy under House rules.
Asked whether the committee hired the law firm to aid the investigation, Petri said: “Because of confidentiality, I will neither confirm nor deny that statement.”
The committee could decide to do nothing or could take action leading to an expulsion vote for the legislators, who were recorded taking envelopes stuffed with cash totaling $16,650.
Stilp, of Harrisburg, said he filed a private criminal complaint and an ethics committee complaint. He said he's waiting to hear from Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico. Stilp plans to ask a judge to consider whether criminal charges should be filed if Marsico declines to take action.
Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who did not prosecute, turned the case file over to Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams.
“We took over the case; it's under investigation,” said Williams' spokeswoman, Tasha Jamerson.
The legislators accused of taking cash from a former lobbyist, who wore a body wire, are Rep. Ron Waters, $7,650; Rep. Vanessa Brown, $4,000; Rep. Michelle Brownlee, $3,500; and Rep. Louise Bishop, $1,500. All have declined to comment.
Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter.