The cloudy case of the Philly sting

MICHAEL BRYANT / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Attorney General Kathleen Kane's rationale has contradictions.
MICHAEL BRYANT / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Attorney General Kathleen Kane's rationale has contradictions.
Posted: March 20, 2014

THE CONFOUNDING and amazing flubbed or forestalled sting of Philly pols and others is looking more and more like a stingray casting barbs left and right.

It's a mess: cloudy, with no clearing in sight.

How do lawmakers and a former Traffic Court judge, allegedly caught on tape or text taking unreported cash, a Tiffany bracelet and primo Phillies tickets, get away with it?

Was Democratic Attorney General Kathleen Kane politically driven to kill an investigation because it targeted only Democrats, mostly African-Americans?

Or did former state prosecutors under investigation by Kane for their handling of the Sandusky prosecution rig a weak case, then leak its details to discredit any Kane findings against them?

Like I say, it's a mess.

For the moment, Kane, who won election in 2012 largely by undermining the credibility of the Attorney General's Office under Republican Tom Corbett, is expressing outrage that her own credibility is being questioned.

"I don't take kindly to people trying to ruin my reputation," Kane said at a news conference Monday.

She argued that the sting was so badly managed it would not stand in court.

It began in 2010 when Corbett was attorney general.

It was overseen by Frank Fina, who ran the attorney general's Public Corruption Unit from 2006 until 2013, when he joined the Philly D.A.'s office after Kane became attorney general - after she promised to probe the Sandusky case Fina oversaw.

Sources with intimate knowledge of the sting and other sources with extensive experience with the principals in the case offer one scenario.

As Kane's coming into office, the sting case is dormant.

Some of it seems so poorly run as to be laughable.

One African-American lawmaker, for example, reportedly is offered money to vote against a voter-ID bill that all Democrats opposed as voter suppression.

This is paying fish to swim.

A source says departing state prosecutors who handled Sandusky likely sought to "welcome" Kane by handing her a case that amounted to nice big bowl of eff-you.

If Kane prosecutes, she probably loses because the case could fall under entrapment or selective prosecution. If Kane punts, as she ultimately did, she looks like she's refusing to do her job for political reasons.

"Masterful," is the way another source described this conjectured plan.

When I contact Fina, all he says for publication is, "I'm watching and listening."

But other sources say there never was focus on African-Americans, that a confidential informant was told to network in politics and was introduced to lawmakers who happened to be African-American and, in at least one case, Caucasian.

Sources also say the case was dormant for two reasons: the informant might have been ID'd, requiring a cooling-off period; and it was intended as a long-term case to be expanded beyond those already recorded.

As for Kane, some of her arguments seem conflicted.

She says crimes were committed but there's "nothing we can do to salvage this case."

She says the No. 1 reason is the "shot" credibility of informant Tyron B. Ali, because the state forgave 2,000-plus charges against him filed in 2009 in connection with a scam to defraud a low-income food program.

But Ali audiotaped those taking money or gifts. Why not let a jury hear the tapes, compromised informant/witness or not; or release the tapes to the public?

Kane says the tapes can't be released because they're "evidence."

But if there's "nothing we can do to salvage" the case, what are they evidence for?

She says federal prosecutors wouldn't take the case. But the Inky reported yesterday that the FBI in Philly looked at the case and made no judgment on whether it could be prosecuted, and that the U.S. attorney in Philly declined comment on the case.

Kane also said she'd "consider and push for" an investigation by the State Ethics Commission, which requires public officials to report gifts. Failure to do so can lead to fines and/or prison terms.

But since Kane killed the sting case last year, one wonders why she didn't seek such an investigation then.

Lots of clouds around all this. No sign it clears up soon.


Blog: ph.ly/BaerGrowls

Columns: ph.ly/JohnBaer

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