HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane on Sunday defended her office's decision not to pursue criminal charges in an investigation into whether four Democratic state lawmakers from Philadelphia accepted illegal payments.
Kane responded to a lengthy story in The Philadelphia Inquirer on Sunday that disclosed the investigation, arguing that the case came to her in fatally flawed form and noting that her own office, an unnamed federal agency and the county prosecutor in Harrisburg all considered the case too weak to prosecute.
Kane told The Associated Press during an hour-long interview in her Harrisburg office that the investigation had become stale by the time it was handed over to her when she took office early last year.
She also said she had concerns about a deal made about a month before she took office to drop charges against the confidential informant used in the case as well as concerns the defendants may have been targeted based on race. All four are members of the Legislature's black caucus.
"There's no way a jury would convict on this," Kane said.
She said the case was brought to her attention in January 2013 during a transition-period staff meeting with Frank Fina, who helped lead the prosecutions of Jerry Sandusky for child molestation and legislators and staff in the state's so-called Bonusgate corruption case.
Kane said a man accused of defrauding the state of more than $400,000 had been wearing a wire and, under the supervision of the attorney general's office, recording his encounters with the lawmakers — and, the newspaper reported, a Philadelphia judge.
"Generally speaking, the black caucus members were alleged to have impermissibly accepted cash payments from" the confidential informant, according to a five-page statement about the matter that Kane provided.
The man named as the informant by the Inquirer declined to comment Sunday.
Kane, a Democrat, said the existence of the investigation seemed to be news to the top aides who had worked under her predecessor, Republican Linda Kelly. But that claim was flatly disputed by one of them, now-retired criminal supervisor Rick Sheetz.
Fina, who left the state prosecutor's office that week and now works for the Philadelphia district attorney's office, declined to comment further, saying late Sunday that the matter was too complex to understand without a longer, more detailed interview.
Kane said she asked Bruce Beemer, one of her top aides who had also been Kelly's chief of staff, to review the case. He concluded that prosecuting the case was not advisable because the informant got an "extraordinary and lenient" deal that would hurt his credibility, because the secret tapes he made were the only evidence, and because the agent who worked with the informant told others he was told to focus on the black caucus.
"Statements about limiting the focus of the investigation to only members of the General Assembly's black caucus were also made by the (informant) to federal law enforcement officials," according to the statement released by Kane on Sunday.
Kane said her office asked a federal entity, which she would not name, if officials there felt the case was prosecutable or whether they wanted to take it over.
"The answer was no and no," Kane said.
She also met with Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico, who reviewed it and also expressed his doubts about the case.
Marsico said the investigation had been inactive for some time and the informant said he would not meet with him.
"Now, there were recordings also, but if we have an informant who is getting some serious charges dismissed, who also wouldn't talk to us, that basically left us with nothing to go on," Marsico said.