Judge holds Pa. AG Kane for trial on 1 felony, 7 misdemeanors
NORRISTOWN — Pennsylvania's chief law enforcement officer will stand trial on a felony perjury charge and seven misdemeanors accusing her of leaking secret grand jury information to get back at an enemy, lying under oath and leading a cover-up, a judge ruled Monday.
Her New York City lawyer Gerald Shargel at times objected forcefully as Attorney General Kathleen Kane listened quietly from the defense table as prosecutors laid out their case to District Judge Cathleen Rebar in the Montgomery County Courthouse.
Shargel refused afterward to explain to reporters how pornographic emails found on office computers will be crucial to her defense, as Kane contends.
“I'm not testing my defense with the media,” Shargel said. He said Rebar ruled the emails weren't relevant but he considers them important to the case.
Kane, wearing a red dress, did not speak when she arrived with bodyguards and her twin, Ellen Granahan, a chief deputy in her office. Granahan walked ahead, briefly drawing the attention of photographers, and sat in the front row of courtroom spectators.
Kane has not entered a plea but has publicly proclaimed her innocence.
“Attorney General Kane is not guilty of any of the charges,” Shargel said.
Special Agent David Peifer, a one-time Kane confidant who supervises special investigations, was the prosecution's first witness. He testified that in March 2014, he gave Kane documents related to a 2009 grand jury investigation that ended without charges against former Philadelphia NAACP leader J. Whyatt Mondesire.
Peifer said he interviewed agent Michael Miletto about the case and gave Kane the transcript.
“She leafed through it and set it down,” he said, and the document remained on the table when Peifer left the meeting. The information later appeared in a Philadelphia Daily News story.
Peifer testified that he had a copy of a memo related to a confidential case emailed to Kane last summer.
After the hearing, Montgomery County First Assistant District Attorney Kevin Steele would not say whether Peifer is cooperating with prosecutors. Peifer, implicated in the criminal complaint but not charged, was subpoenaed to testify.
County Detective Paul Bradbury testified that Kane in November told a grand jury investigating her that she never saw the memo. Her first deputy, Bruce Beemer, said she was well-versed in what it contained, according to Bradbury, who read into the record the grand jury testimony of Kane and others.
Bradbury, who investigated Kane, said the leak caused Mondesire “great personal distress and distress to his family,” and forced him to close his charity when donations ended after the newspaper story.
Kane, 49, of Scranton is the first woman and Democrat elected attorney general. The perjury charge carries a potential seven-year prison sentence; the misdemeanors include obstruction of justice, official oppression and false swearing.
Steele said a trial in 2016 is a realistic target. Kane's formal arraignment is scheduled for Oct. 14.
The judge and Shargel tangled as the attorney attempted to argue against the oppression charges while cross-examining Peifer.
Shargel argued that prosecutors did not give him adequate time to review material, but Rebar ruled that state law doesn't require them to share evidence well in advance of a preliminary hearing with looser rules of evidence and a lower burden of proof.
“I'm not here as a potted plant. I'm here to represent my client,” Shargel said, as Rebar reined him in.
Shargel argued that Mondesire's reputation was damaged by articles dating to 2010 that alleged problems with his finances.
Prosecutors contend that Kane schemed to leak the information to reporter Chris Brennan to try to embarrass former state prosecutor Frank Fina, whom she blamed for trying to discredit her when she declined to prosecute several Philadelphia lawmakers caught on tape taking bribes.
Kane's driver and bodyguard Patrick Reese, a former Dunmore police chief, is charged with criminal contempt. He gained access to the files of the grand jury that was investigating his boss, Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman said when announcing the charges Aug. 6.
An audit of emails stored in the office computer system showed that Reese often searched emails that might contain information about the investigation of Kane, according to a criminal complaint. At Kane's suggestion, investigators said, Reese gained access to the system at Peifer's request.
Kane maintains she is a victim of an “old boys' network” of former Republican prosecutors who went after her in an attempt to block the release of pornographic and racially insensitive emails exchanged in the attorney general's office.
Bradbury said her aides and an expert witness contradicted several points of Kane's testimony.
For one, Kane said she did not know the leaked information was from a grand jury investigation. She said she had not taken an oath of secrecy covering the years before she was elected, Bradbury said.
But Bradbury said Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. told the grand jury that there are criminal sanctions for violating grand jury secrecy and it would not matter whether a prosecutor signed an oath.
Kane claimed not to have known about the documents that went to her political consultant, Josh Morrow, who delivered them to Brennan. Morrow told the grand jury he picked up an envelope from the doorway of former first deputy Adrian King's home in Philadelphia.
King has said he did not know what was in the envelope. He told the grand jury that the effort to make public the Mondesire case “seemed like a distraction. It seemed to be paranoid.”
Kane insists she will run for re-election in 2016. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and other members of her party have urged her to resign.
She is the first attorney general charged with a crime since Ernie Preate resigned during his second term and pleaded guilty to mail fraud in 1995. He served a year in prison. Preate was accused of showing favoritism to video poker operators who contributed to his first campaign for attorney general.
There are rumblings in the GOP-controlled Legislature about impeaching Kane. The state Supreme Court, working with the lawyer disciplinary board, could suspend her law license, meaning she could not serve as attorney general under the state Constitution.
Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The Associated Press contributed.