Ethics complaints lodged in sting case

Gene Stilp filed two ethics complaints against Democrats targeted in the investigation that Attorney General Kathleen Kane dropped.
Gene Stilp filed two ethics complaints against Democrats targeted in the investigation that Attorney General Kathleen Kane dropped. (ED HILLE / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 20, 2014

HARRISBURG - A longtime good-government activist filed ethics complaints Tuesday against leading Philadelphia Democrats ensnared in an undercover sting investigation by the state Attorney General's Office.

The complaints by Gene Stilp, a former Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor and Congress, came in response to a report in Sunday's Inquirer that at least five public officials, including four state representatives, had been captured on tape accepting money or gifts.

Stilp filed two complaints, one with the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission, another with the House of Representatives' Ethics Committee. He is asking both bodies to launch formal investigations.

At the same time, he is calling on the four legislators to consider resigning.

"Save the citizens of the Commonwealth some time," Stilp urged in a statement released Tuesday. "Let someone who is not inclined to make these types of mistakes serve in the House. Take your medicine and move on."

Sources familiar with the investigation have told The Inquirer that prosecutors amassed 400 hours of audio and videotape that documented at least four Democrats taking payments in cash and money orders, and, in one case, a $2,000 Tiffany bracelet, from lobbyist Tyron B. Ali, who was working undercover for the Attorney General's Office.

People with knowledge of the inquiry said those caught on tape include former Philadelphia Traffic Court Judge Thomasine Tynes, who acknowledged that she received the bracelet.

Four state lawmakers also took money, the sources said: State Rep. Ron Waters accepted multiple payments totaling $7,650, Rep. Vanessa Brown took $4,000, Rep. Michelle Brownlee $3,500, and Rep. Louise Bishop $1,500.

Bishop has said she did not know Ali and never accepted money or gifts from him. Brownlee has said she did not recall accepting anything. Waters has said Ali may have given him something for his birthday, but he could not remember details. Brown has declined to comment, but her lawyer has said she did nothing wrong.

The investigation began in late 2010, when Gov. Corbett was attorney general. When Kathleen G. Kane took office in January of last year, she shuttered the probe. She has said she believed the investigation was poorly managed, marred by racism, and relied on a confidential informant with little credibility.

Top prosecutors who launched the sting say they believe it was solid and contend that Kane, a Democrat, shut it down for political reasons. Kane has vigorously denied that suggestion.

In his complaint to the House Ethics Committee, Stilp urged its members to investigate the four legislators and to show that they take the allegations seriously by filing their own complaint urging the State Ethics Commission to take up the case.

"This investigation could possibly turn up more of such reported alleged illegal activity in other sectors of the House, and I would urge the House Ethics Committee to follow the trail wherever it leads," Stilp wrote.

House Ethics Committee officials could not be reached for immediate comment.

Stilp's complaint to the state Ethics Commission asks for an investigation of the four legislators and Tynes.

717-787-5934 @AngelasInk

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