In court records, contrasting portraits of informant Ali

Robert J. Levant said his client gave prosecutors "extraordinary assistance" and possessed
Robert J. Levant said his client gave prosecutors "extraordinary assistance" and possessed ("unique potential operational capacities" as an informant.)
Posted: April 14, 2014

In freshly unsealed court filings, Tyron Ali's lawyer offers a new portrait of the man at the center of a failed aborted government sting:

He's a hero.

He worked endless hours, nearly full time, as an unpaid undercover informant, not just for the state Attorney General's Office, but for law enforcement agencies that needed his expert service and commitment.

One such investigation involved threats against the public safety - and put Ali's own safety at grave risk.

In fact, according to Philadelphia lawyer Robert Levant, "there may never have been any civilian in the history of the [Attorney General's Office] to have supplied as much uncompensated work as Mr. Ali."

That portrayal, sketched in filings among 1,000 pages of legal documents released Thursday, is at odds with the description and experience of many who have known and worked with Ali.

Detractors say Ali is a crook and a con man, a fraud once charged with 2,088 counts of stealing food money from poor children and seniors, and who was accused of taking an estimated $480,000 from lenders to whom he promised big returns. Some later got part of their money back.

Ali has declined to comment, and his whereabouts are unknown. A local politico said he spotted Ali recently at a cigar bar on Walnut Street.

Levant declined to be interviewed or to specify the nature of the danger Ali is said to have faced in his undercover work.

In addition to outlining Levant's heroic view of Ali, 40, documents released last week help illuminate the secret sting that sources say captured five Philadelphia Democrats on tape accepting money or gifts.

The documents also detail a behind-the-scenes legal fight over Ali's work and credibility.

Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane said she quashed the sting because she believed it could not be successfully prosecuted - in part because of Ali.

The filings, released after appeals from nearly a dozen news organizations, including The Inquirer, reveal the deep mistrust between Kane's incoming administration and Ali, who had worked for her predecessors for nearly two years.

Ali became an informant to win leniency after his April 2009 arrest in a fraud case related to a day-care center he owns in Logan.

Supporters of the sting say the deal with Ali was worth it.

'Unique capacities'

According to interviews and investigative documents, four state representatives and a Philadelphia Traffic Court judge were caught accepting money or gifts:

Rep. Louise Bishop, who took $1,500; Rep. Michelle Brownlee, who accepted $2,000; Rep. Vanessa Brown, who was given $5,000; and Rep. Ron Waters, who accepted $8,250; and Judge Thomasine Tynes, who has said she accepted a $2,052 Tiffany bracelet from Ali.

Bishop has denied taking money from Ali, Brownlee said she could not recall accepting anything from him, Brown denied wrongdoing through her attorney, and Waters said he might have received something for his birthday.

In a court filing, Levant pointed to Ali's "extraordinary assistance" to prosecutors. He wrote that Ali was adept at his role of informant because of his "unique potential operational capacities," swimming in the political waters of Philadelphia and Harrisburg.

Ali's "remarkable commitment" led state prosecutors to dismiss the charges against him in exchange for his cooperation, Levant wrote.

While Kane has decried the dismissal of the fraud case, Levant's memo said Ali provided financial records that "substantially exonerated him" of the charges.

As Ali moved through the halls of the state Capitol and Philadelphia City Hall, he dressed like a wealthy banker, always in pin-striped suit and cuff links, a Masonic Lodge pin on his lapel. He talked like a college professor, invariably asked if he could help, and always picked up the check.

Many people say that's an illusion.

Ali professed to be immersed in politics, but he is not registered to vote.

He falsely claims to have graduated from Temple University and to have completed two years at its law school.

And while Ali is routinely described as a lobbyist, his registration expired 15 months ago.

In 2009, when he was arrested for the alleged day-care fraud, authorities were afraid he might run. They requested a high bail - $750,000 cash - and wanted his passport.

Investigators said in court documents that he might flee to Trinidad, a familial homeland, and that he had business interests in Florida.

Corporate filings show that Ali helped run a two-man process-serving business with his brother, Hassan Ali, in South Florida.

Ali was the sole director and his brother the president of Odyssey Process Service Inc., founded in 2006. Ali left the company in 2010, records show.

The current address for the firm is an apartment building where Hassan Ali lives in Hallandale, Fla. Efforts to reach him were unsuccessful.

Ali's deal with the Attorney General's Office required him to help other government investigative units if asked - and he worked on several inquiries with another agency, according to Levant's memo.

The agency is not named.

One investigation, Levant wrote, "involved threats against public safety and posed grave risks to Mr. Ali's own physical safety."

The nature of those threats was not described.

Reversing course

Shortly after The Inquirer disclosed the aborted sting, Ali's lawyer called for records in the case to be made public. But he soon reversed course.

"My client had received a threat potentially from an individual," Levant said during a March 20 telephone conference with Bruce Beemer and Adrian King of the Attorney General's Office and Dauphin County Court President Judge Todd A. Hoover.

The previous night and that morning, Levant said, he spoke with FBI agents who had extensive dealings with Ali, according to a transcript of the call obtained by The Inquirer.

The judge asked if the agents had expressed concern for Ali's safety.

"They obviously are not in a position to know how credible, you know, the threats are, but I do know that they have acted upon the information they received," Levant said.

"OK," the judge answered. "So, I'll take that as a yes."

The judge ordered the file, which had been sealed to protect Ali from exposure while he worked undercover, to remain shielded from public view.

That decision was later overturned after media appeals. By the end, the Attorney General's Office yielded to calls for transparency - and even Ali assented to the opening of the files.

"While Mr. Ali is distressed that the public forum has become inundated with negative information about him," after discussions with law enforcement officials, "he does not believe that unsealing the record in this case will pose any more of a risk to Mr. Ali than already presented."


jgammage@phillynews.com

215-854-4906

@JeffGammage

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