Kenya Mann Faulkner, new Pa. inspector general, has broad legal background

Kenya Mann Faulkner says her appointment is a reflection of those who have supported her during 20 years of legal work. "I had a lot of people who just helped me," she said.
Kenya Mann Faulkner says her appointment is a reflection of those who have supported her during 20 years of legal work. "I had a lot of people who just helped me," she said.
Posted: January 15, 2011

Kenya Mann Faulkner was a vocational high school student in New York City when she confessed a secret to a guidance counselor: She wanted to go to college, maybe even become a lawyer.

"That's not going to happen for you," the counselor told her, according to Faulkner. The woman instead suggested stenography courses.

In the ensuing three decades, Faulkner not only collected her law degree, but climbed the ladder from Philadelphia public defender to assistant state attorney general and, later, federal prosecutor.

Last week, Gov.-elect Tom Corbett named her state inspector general. In doing so, he handed the 44-year-old Montgomery County resident an office tasked with rooting out government waste and corruption - but one that, despite a $2.5 million budget and nearly 400 employees, has stayed in the shadows.

In its last annual report posted online, for 2008-09, the office said it had completed 145 background investigations, and had identified 18 cases in which state workers abused work hours and 21 in which they misused state equipment or cars.

"I had never heard of this agency until she told me about it," said Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman, a friend of Faulkner's. Ferman added: "I don't think that's going to be the case a year from now."

Others were surprised by the news because Faulkner isn't a political player. She's a longtime registered Republican, but admits she briefly switched parties in 2008 to support Barack Obama. Even those who know her describe her as apolitical.

"It's a breath of fresh air," said Nino V. Tinari, who sparred in court with Faulkner when she prosecuted one of his clients, Philadelphia City Councilman Rick Mariano. "Most of the time, those kind of appointments are made as a result of being politically active."

Faulkner insists her appointment is less a reflection on her than of those who have guided and supported her during 20 years in the Philadelphia legal community.

"I had a lot of people who just helped me," she said.

Corbett would rank high on the list. As attorney general in 1996, he hired Faulkner, then a public defender, to be a prosecutor in the Bureau of Narcotics Investigation.

In 2001, the bureau handed a methamphetamine-distribution conspiracy case to federal prosecutors. Because Faulkner had built the case, the U.S. Attorney's Office asked her to join the prosecution. After the trial, she said, officials there asked her to stay.

Her early caseload was devoted to federal drug prosecutions, until the day police officers she was working with lied to her about evidence in a case. She found herself in a tortuous position for a prosecutor, as a witness against a fellow law enforcement officer. The officers pleaded guilty before she had to testify, Faulkner said, but she feared the case might end her career.

Instead, supervisors asked if she would lend a hand on "a small corruption manner," Faulkner said. That turned out to be the Mariano case, one of the city's highest-profile kickback cases in years.

"Kenya was always in the office at the crack of dawn, both offering encouragement and advice to younger assistants and debating strategy with other assistants," said Michael A. Schwartz, who headed the corruption unit and the Mariano prosecution.

Other cases followed, like the conviction Faulkner helped win against Anthony "Mark" Bianchi, a New Jersey millionaire who traveled overseas to have sex with children. Before that trial, she spent four days interviewing witnesses in Moldova with attorney Mark Geragos, who represented the defendant.

Geragos was impressed. He said Faulkner's experience as a prosecutor and a defense attorney gave her perspective many lawyers lack.

"She's very tenacious," he said, "but at the same time, she's got a soft side to her."

Faulkner left the prosecutor's office for a job at the Philadelphia law firm Ballard Spahr L.L.P., but she didn't leave public service. Mayor Nutter asked her to serve on the city's Ethics Board, a role that challenged her unlike any other.

Last March, City Council members publicly grilled her, then shelved a vote to reconfirm her, complaining about a prosecutorial or "gotcha" mentality. Faulkner was reluctant to discuss her tenure there, but defended her record. "At the end of the day, you do what you think is right, and that's what I tried to do," said Faulkner, who resigned her seat in June for health reasons. "I wouldn't change a decision I made on that board."

Councilman Bill Green, one of her interrogators in March, was hesitant to revisit the past. "I think she did an honorable job on the Ethics Board and I'm sure she'll make a great inspector general," Green said. "And I hope she finds a whole lot of waste, fraud, and abuse - because we need the money."

Faulkner starts her new job Wednesday. She said she and her husband, former Cheyney University football coach Kevin Faulkner, have not decided if they will trade their Ambler home for one in Harrisburg.

First, she wants to familiarize herself with the office. She hasn't talked extensively with Corbett about the new post, but expects they'll see things the same way.

"My impression is that he's going to let me do my job," she said.


Contact staff writer John P. Martin at 610-313-8120 or jmartin@phillynews.com.

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