Culture of corruption update

Yesterday in “Culture of corruption” I wrote about the “sting operation over three years that captured leading Philadelphia Democrats, including four members of the city’s state House delegation, on tape accepting money[.]” The investigation was killed by Attorney General Kathleen Kane (a Democrat) when she took office in early 2013.

Kane has hired an attorney to make threatening noises regarding a defamation lawsuit against the Inquirer, but she is firing blanks or shooting at her own feet. Putting to one side the fact that public figures have essentially no protection under the law of defamation, Kane has yet to identify a false statement of fact in the Inquirer story. If she were serious about a lawsuit, that would be a problem.

Responding to the story, Kane herself has trafficked in accusations that sound in defamation. She has accused those who conducted the investigation of targeting black legislators and dismissed those who question her action as “nothing more than the Good Ol’ Boys club playing political games to discredit me in order to fulfill their own selfish and improper agenda.” The story struck a nerve.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reporters who broke the story have filed an interesting update in today’s paper: “District Attorney Williams blasts attorney general in sting case.” Craig McCoy and Angela Couloumbis report:

In unusually barbed criticism of a fellow prosecutor and fellow Democrat, Philadelphia’s district attorney rebuked state Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane on Friday, saying she had needlessly killed a solid corruption investigation – and besmirched the prosecutors who built the case.

In an op-ed to be published in The Inquirer on Sunday, Seth Williams faulted Kane for shutting down a “sting” operation that caught at least five Philadelphia Democrats, including four state representatives, on tape accepting money or gifts.

“She apparently has electronic recordings of numerous elected officials taking money while promising their votes – and she has to let them off scot-free because she would be incapable of convincing a jury of their guilt?” he wrote.

Kane has said she closed the investigation in part because prosecutors had made an unduly lenient deal with the case’s undercover informant, dropping 2,088 charges against him in a massive fraud case in exchange for his cooperation.

That, she said, rendered his credibility “horrendously tainted” and would have prevented prosecutors from winning in court.

Williams blasted that decision. “The Attorney General of Pennsylvania drops a case supported by hundreds of hours of devastating tapes because the main witness got a deal on a bunch of government fraud charges,” he wrote. “As a DA, I think this might be the most disturbing aspect of the whole sordid spectacle. You don’t have to be a prosecutor to know this is how it’s done.”

Adrian R. King Jr., Kane’s first deputy attorney general, declined to respond to Williams’ assertions.

Kane has said the sting investigation was poorly conceived, badly managed, and possibly tainted by racist targeting of African Americans. She also said the undercover operative, Tyron B. Ali, had been given “the deal of the century” by Frank G. Fina, the chief deputy attorney general who led the investigation.

Williams spoke out in defense of Fina and Claude Thomas, who served as the operation’s lead agent. Both now work for Williams.

Fina and Thomas, he said, had excellent records of prosecuting corruption, targeting Republicans and Democrats, blacks and whites in some of the most high- profile cases in recent state history.

As for Kane’s suggestion that the sting investigation may have been tainted by racism, Williams wrote: “I am offended. I have seen racism. I know what it looks like. This isn’t it.”

Of Thomas, Williams said, “Like me, he is a black man.. . . He has absolutely, unequivocally denied that he was asked to, or agreed to, engage in such reprehensible conduct. . . . I believe he is telling the truth.”

In a separate op-ed submitted to The Inquirer for publication Sunday, Fina mocked Kane for her decision to request to meet with the editorial board of The Inquirer on Thursday, only to arrive and decline to address the board or answer any questions. She did so upon the advice of her newly hired lawyer, Richard A. Sprague, who accompanied her to the meeting.

“I have not retained an attorney to advise me to speak, or to remain silent,” Fina wrote. “I am an attorney.”

Fina called for a televised public forum at which he and Kane could debate the merits of the investigation, which Fina said had been conducted “honestly, ably, and with integrity.”

Thomas also sent a statement to The Inquirer on Friday. In it, he vehemently rejected any suggestion that race played a role in the investigation.

“The assertion that I/we targeted African Americans is unequivocably and blatantly false,” he wrote. “I did not target any persons by race, ethnicity or political affiliation.”

Whole thing here, and a story very much worth following.

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