What the five allegedly on tape say

Thomasine Tynes. Acknowledged receiving a Tiffany bracelet valued at $2,000
Thomasine Tynes. Acknowledged receiving a Tiffany bracelet valued at $2,000
Posted: March 17, 2014

They didn't know him.

Or they knew him but had no memory of accepting his money.

They dined with him, but he was just another lobbyist.

That is how five leading Philadelphia Democrats who sources say were caught on tape in a sting investigation described their relationship with Tyron B. Ali, who went undercover for the state Attorney General's Office.

After the recordings were made, prosecutors do not appear to have contacted the elected officials or interviewed them about the lobbyist.

None of the five reported receiving gifts or campaign money from him on official disclosure forms in recent years. While state law sets no limits on the dollar amount of gifts lawmakers may accept, annual disclosure is required.

Here are detailed responses from the five to questions on the investigation.

Thomasine Tynes

Acknowledged receiving a Tiffany’s bracelet valued at $2,000

Age: 70

Position: Former president judge of Philadelphia Traffic Court.

Tenure: Served on the bench from 1989 until her retirement in 2012.

Tynes is awaiting trial on federal fraud charges. She is accused of fixing tickets and lying about it to a grand jury.

In interviews with The Inquirer, Tynes said she met Ali only twice, both times in 2011.

The first time was over lunch with State Rep. Vanessa Brown, who introduced her to him, Tynes said.

The second time was on Tynes’ 68th birthday in June 2011, when she and Ali went to the Palm for lunch. There, she said, he pointed to a picture of himself on the wall. The interior of the Center City restaurant, popular with pols, is adorned with caricatures of Philadelphia’s movers and shakers.

At the table, Tynes said, Ali handed her a charm bracelet. “It was my birthday,” she said.

At first, she said, she thought the gift an inexpensive trinket. Later, she realized it was from Tiffany & Co. She said she stopped in the Tiffany store on Walnut Street and learned it was worth about $2,000.

“I had a fit, I was so scared,” she said. “When I found out what the value was, I went bananas.”

Tynes provided a series of evolving accounts of what she did with the bracelet. At first she said that about five months after accepting the bracelet, she mailed it back to him.

Later, through her lawyer, Louis R. Busico, Tynes said she had obtained cashier checks to pay back Ali but could not find his address. As for the bracelet, Busico said Tynes told him she had kept it but lost track of it. “I can’t tell you where it is,” he said.

On Thursday, Tynes told The Inquirer she recently found it in her safe deposit box. She said she would talk to her lawyer about what to do with it.

As for her dealings with Ali, Tynes said he had used their meetings to say he was looking to land work with Traffic Court to collect unpaid tickets.

Under state rules, a gift may be accepted “only if the donor is not a party ... whose interests have come or are likely to come before” the judge.

Three years after receiving the bracelet, Tynes said she would have a hard time recognizing the man who gave it to her. “I wouldn’t know him from a can of paint,” she said.

State Rep. Michelle Brownlee

Accused of accepting $3,500

Age: 57

District: The 195th Legislative District includes Fairmount, Brewerytown, Mantua, Spring Garden, and parts of West Phila- delphia.

Tenure: First elected in 2010, serving her second two-year term.

Interviewed at her home, Brownlee said she knew Ali and had dined with him but said she had no memory of ever accepting money from him.

According to a source with knowledge of the probe, the tapes reveal that he paid her $3,500. At one point in 2011, the source said, Ali went for a private walk with Brownlee and handed her $2,000.

Asked if she ever took money from Ali, she said: “I don’t recall taking any money from him.”

As for dining with the lobbyist, she said that had no impact on her actions. “I vote my district, all right. ... That does not obligate me to vote what they want me to vote. That’s ludicrous.”

State Rep. Louise Bishop

Accused of accepting $1,500

Age: 80

District: The 192d Legislative District covers portions of West Philadelphia and the Overbrook section of the city.

Tenure: A 13-term representative first elected in 1988.

One of the four state lawmakers said to have been picked up on tape, Bishop said she had never met Ali and had not taken money from him.

According to a source familiar with the investigation, Bishop was paid $1,500 amid discussions that included her vote on a plan to privatize liquor sales. The source said Bishop accepted three $500 payments over a five months.

Interviewed at her home in West Philadelphia, Bishop said none of that happened.

“I wish I could help you,” she said. “Never met him. Never had any dealings with him at all.”

“I really don’t know who he is,” she added.

In a separate interview, a colleague in the Philadelphia delegation, State Rep. Rosita Youngblood, said Bishop seemed to know Ali, and even urged her to to meet with him.

Louise would say, ‘Oh, he’s a good guy,’ ” Youngblood said.

Youngblood, who received a $400 campaign donation from Ali in 2010, said she did not have a favorable impression of him.

“He came on too strong,” Youngblood said. “It was almost like he was stalking. It had me to the point, like, What is wrong with this man?"

State Rep. Vanessa Brown

Accused of accepting $4,000

Age: 47

District: The 190th Legislative District includes Belmont, Carroll Park, Mill Creek, Haddington, and Strawberry Mansion.

Tenure: First elected in 2008, she is serving her third two-year term.

Of the four state lawmakers, Brown was the only one to decline to answer questions.

According to a source fa- miliar with the inquiry, she was paid a total of $4,000. Asked about that, Brown replied: “I would like to not say anything at all.”

She added: “I just care not to say anything. Because we come across a lot of people. We meet a lot of people. That’s all I can say. And a lot of people who come across our paths we don’t know who they are.”

According to others who know Brown, she and Ali were friendly.

On Saturday, Brown’s lawyer, Wadud Ahmad, expressed skepticism about the investigation. He said he had not been contacted by law enforcement officials and knew little about the case. As a former prosecutor, he said, “I have never seen a prosecutor or any federal agent give someone a pass when they have strong evidence that they did something wrong.”

State Rep. Ronald G. Waters

Accused of accepting $7,650

Age: 63

District: The 191st Legislative District, which covers the West Philadelphia neighborhoods of Cobbs Creek and Kingsessing and parts of Delaware County.

Tenure: Elected in 1999, Waters is serving his eighth term.

Waters initially told The Inquirer he had never received a payment or a gift from Ali.

“He never gave me anything,” Waters said.

Later, he said that every year in April he throws himself a birthday party and that Ali may have attended one such gathering - and perhaps given him a gift.

“I’m trying to remember if he gave me something for my birthday or something. I don’t remember,” Waters said. “I’ve got to check.”

Waters did not re- spond to phone calls or e-mail requests for further comment.

In his annual financial-disclosure statements cov- ering 2010, 2011, and 2012, Waters reported that he had not received any gifts.

According to sources familiar with the investigation, Waters received multiple payments. One of the sources said the total was $7,650 in various installments over 19 months - the most of any of the five.

Among other payments, the source said, was $1,000 handed to Waters in April 2011 as a birthday present.

The transaction was recorded on tape, according to people who have reviewed transcripts of the conversation.

As Ali handed Waters an envelope, the sources said, Ali told him: “Hey, there’s $1,000 in there, bro.”

According to the sources, Waters replied: “My man, happy birthday to Ron Waters.”

That same year, a source said, Waters was paid $500 to arrange a meeting between Ali and Vincent Fenerty, the executive director of the Republican-controlled Philadelphia Parking Authority, to pitch him for a collections contract.

Waters, a supervisor at the Parking Authority for 13 years before his election to the House in 1999, said he set up a meeting between Ali and Fenerty that he also attended.

“Nothing happened,” Waters said. “There was no contract. There was nothing.”

He insisted he did not accept any money for ar- ranging the meeting.

“No,” he said. “I didn’t want anything from him for that.”

Fenerty said he recalled the meeting.

“Ron Waters did bring him,” Fenerty said. Ali “made a pitch for some type of collection services. I wasn’t im- pressed.”


cmccoy@phillynews.com

215-854-4821 @CraigRMccoy

acouloumbis@phillynews.com

717-787-5934 @AngelasInk

Inquirer staff writers Mark Fazlollah and Dylan Purcell contributed to these articles.

 

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