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Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania's Office of Attorney General blasted for agent shortfall

| Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016, 10:09 p.m.

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania's Office of Attorney General is 30 percent short of agents needed to effectively battle drug trafficking, according to Chief of Staff Jonathan Duecker, but Attorney General Kathleen Kane will find up to $2 million for a special prosecutor to investigate state agency emails.

Duecker told a bipartisan Senate panel that the Bureau of Narcotics Investigation and Drug Control, because of attrition and the agent complement statewide, “is at about 70 percent of what it needs to be, in light of the overwhelming strategic drug and crime threat to the state.”

The agency has equipment and training fund shortages but “you or the agency say you didn't have the money,” retired agent C.C. Parker emailed Duecker on Wednesday, the day after his testimony.

“Yet someone found a couple million dollars to hire private counsel. Money has been found for pet projects,” said Parker, who was wounded in the line of duty.

Duecker could not be reached for comment.

Kane on Dec. 1 announced she hired former Maryland attorney general Douglas Gansler and his Washington law firm BuckleySandler LLP as a special prosecutor to investigate pornographic and offensive emails in Pennsylvania government at a cost to taxpayers of up to $2 million.

An accused perjurer, Kane faces possible Senate removal because she heads the office without a valid law license. The state Supreme Court suspended her license indefinitely, effective in October. She is accused of 12 criminal counts in Montgomery County.

Kane's spokesman Chuck Ardo said she has discretion in utilizing the agency's budget. The money for Gansler's firm “is money that otherwise would be used for some other purpose,” Ardo said.

Asked why Kane would not put the money toward fighting epidemic heroin use and what Duecker identified as the movement of Mexican cartels into Pennsylvania, Ardo said: “The attorney general believes restoring confidence in Pennsylvania's judicial system is worth the investment.”

“I disagree,” Parker said. “If you give people the choice between other people dying or restoring confidence in the judicial system, they'll choose saving lives.”

Duecker implied the agency's anti-drug effort is far superior under Kane than it was in the past, citing her new mobile street crime unit and “strategic” intelligence-gathering. That's “a slap in the face of every career investigator,” Parker said.

“Mr. Duecker had no intention of insulting previous office employees,” said Ardo.

One current and three former agents, who asked not to be identified, supported Parker's argument that shoe-leather investigations are equal to or superior to intelligence analysis under Duecker, former head of the narcotics unit and a former counter-intelligence official.

The mobile street crime unit produces high-profile but small-scale drug busts. Two former agents said they no longer see long-term investigations of drug enterprises or public corruption.

Jeff Johnson, an agency spokesman, said he could not provide statistics on drug investigations.

Parker called Duecker's claims of “new and innovative ways to fight drugs” misleading.

“You see, for years we have collected intelligence and acted upon it,” Parker said in his email. “We didn't call it strategies, we called it being investigators. We didn't need to go ask people (in statewide surveys). We knew what was going on in Pennsylvania through investigations and administering task forces.”

Intelligence analysts don't make arrests, Parker said.

Parker's email to Duecker noted that the union representing narcotics agents statewide has an unsettled contract; the previous contract expired July 1. Kane's handling of that contract has drawn interest of the FBI, the Legal Intelligencer and Philadelphia Inquirer have reported.

Chris Juba, the union president, declined to comment.

Members of the Senate panel grilled Duecker about the release of about 1 million emails to Gansler's firm. Those emails contain information on “criminal investigations and intelligence” that legally can be viewed only by a criminal justice agency, an agent said.

Asked if the release violated grand jury secrecy, Duecker told Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, during the hearing, “I can't answer that.” Asked if they were given to Gansler's firm before Gansler and other lawyers signed secrecy oaths, Duecker said they may have been sent but they weren't accessed immediately.

Gansler could not be reached.

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

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