The day the sting began

Michelle Brownlee, who was then running for a state House seat, told Krain in October 2010 she wouldn't take cash. Eight months later, in office, she accepted $2,000.
Michelle Brownlee, who was then running for a state House seat, told Krain in October 2010 she wouldn't take cash. Eight months later, in office, she accepted $2,000.
Posted: March 25, 2014

In October 2010, after promising to show state investigators the corrupt core of Pennsylvania politics, Tyron B. Ali set out to deliver some results.

As his first step, he approached his friend David Krain, a city worker and Democratic political activist.

According to interviews with Krain and official case summaries made by investigators from the covert tapes Ali made, Krain promised to introduce him to the connected.

Not long after that, Ali gave Krain a cash-stuffed envelope, according to the tape summmaries.

Krain, 34, said he agreed to deliver the envelope to Michelle Brownlee, a longtime Democratic legislative aide then running for a state House seat. He and Brownlee had been friends for years.

Brownlee refused the envelope, Krain said, so he gave it back to Ali.

Ali had an alternative plan. He gave Krain $1,500 in cash, and told him to deposit it in his bank account and write a check to Brownlee, the tape summaries said.

That same day, Krain deposited $1,500 into his bank account, according to bank records he provided to The Inquirer. Krain said he could not recall the source of the money, but said it might have come from Ali.

It's unclear what happened to the $1,500 from there. Krain said he can't remember.

The following June, Ali met Brownlee and others in a Harrisburg restaurant. After a while, the two went for a walk. During the stroll, Ali handed Brownlee $2,000, according to the tape summaries.

When they returned to the table, according to the tape summaries, they discussed politics. Ali urged Brownlee to vote against a bill that would require voters to show identification at the polls, they said. She said she opposed the measure.

In all, Ali made a total of about $20,000 in payments to eight political figures, including four state House members from Philadelphia, tape summaries show. No one has been charged with a crime.

State Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane, who inherited the investigation when she took office in January 2013, said the undercover operation was seriously flawed and would not have led to a successful prosecution. She shut it down.

Supporters of the investigation disagree with Kane's assessment, saying it was a solid effort led by experienced prosecutors that had already ensnared several lawmakers and that had the potential to draw in more.

Kane said she ended the investigation in part because she believed it may have been tainted by racial targeting because it seemed to focus on African Americans. Krain, of Northeast Philadelphia, is white.

The sting began in October 2010, when Ali agreed to tape a phone call with Krain, according to case summaries.

During the call, the tape summaries said, the men hatched a plan: Ali would give money to Krain, who would pass it on to Brownlee, then a candidate for a seat in the 195th House District, which stretches from Brewerytown to West Philadelphia.

Within an hour, the tape summaries said, Ali was fitted with a body wire and was on his way to see Krain. He carried an envelope containing $3,000 in cash given to him by agents from the state Attorney General's Office.

According to the tape summaries, this is what happened next:

Ali picked up Krain, and the two drove to Brownlee's home. Two agents watched from a distance as Krain briefly went into Brownlee's rowhouse. He was back in the car within 10 minutes, explaining that Brownlee wouldn't take the cash.

Under state law, candidates for political office are forbidden to accept cash donations of more than $100.

In a series of recent interviews, Krain said Ali had given him an envelope and told him it was full of cash, but he said he never looked inside. He said he was simply doing a favor for Ali, a longtime friend.

"I just kind of took it in stride. I didn't think about it," said Krain. "It was more or less friendship."

Two days days after the failed attempt to deliver the cash, Krain and Ali carried out the new plan, according to the tape summaries.

On Oct. 21, 2010, they said, Ali gave Krain $1,500 in cash to deposit in his Wachovia bank account. The plan was for Krain to write a check from his account to Brownlee's campaign fund, thus concealing Ali's involvement, the tape summaries said.

Ali told investigators Krain assured him he had given Brownlee the $1,500 check, as planned, the tape summaries said.

In interviews, Krain said he could not recall whether he had received $1,500 from Ali.

On Thursday, he allowed The Inquirer to review his Wachovia banking records for 2010. The records showed Krain deposited $1,500 into the account on Oct. 21, 2010.

However, the records give no indication that Krain ever wrote a $1,500 check in return. Nor does Brownlee's campaign fund show a $1,500 contribution from anyone in that year.

"I don't recall writing a check to anybody," said Krain.

Brownlee won the election.

The next year, as she settled into her new seat in the state House, she warmed to Ali, the tape summaries said, alerting him to how she planned to vote on legislation and taking cash directly from him.

Brownlee has said she does not remember taking cash from anyone.

The case summaries described one such encounter:

On June 15, 2011, they said, Ali met Brownlee at a Harrisburg restaurant and asked her to take a walk with him. As they strolled, Ali handed her a wad of money wrapped in a napkin.

"I put it in the napkin for you," he told her. "There's $2,000 in there."

"OK," she said and took the money.

In an interview, Brownlee said he remembered dining with Ali, but she said she could not recall taking money from him.

As for Krain, he said he was shocked that a man he had long considered a friend had been secretly recording their dealings.

He said he had "more than learned" from the experience. For one thing, he said, his days of delivering cash to politicians are behind him.

"The envelopes are no good," Krain said. "If you can't do it up front, you can't do it."


> Inquirer.com

For complete coverage of the sting that was shut down, visit www.inquirer.com/investigation


mfazlollah@phillynews.com

215-854-5831

@mfazlollah

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