Corbett: Never made a decision on Phila. sting case

Gov. Corbett was attorney general when the sting began.
Gov. Corbett was attorney general when the sting began.
Posted: April 17, 2014

Gov. Corbett and his successor as the state's top prosecutor on Tuesday said it was inaccurate for Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane to suggest that they decided not to pursue charges in the sting investigation that recorded Philadelphia elected officials accepting money and gifts.

Speaking to reporters after a bill-signing in Ambler, Montgomery County, Corbett called "misleading" Kane's assertion that her three predecessors, including him, decided that they could not bring charges in the case.

Corbett noted that he was in his final months as attorney general when the investigation began in late 2010.

"It only began when I was there," Corbett said. "It was way too early to make a decision whether to prosecute, it was just beginning."

He added, "So for her to include me in that is kind of misleading."

William H. Ryan Jr., who was attorney general for four months in 2011, said in an interview that he also made no judgment on the case.

"It wasn't that I declined to bring charges," Ryan said, speaking publicly for the first time about the sting. "The matter was still an ongoing investigation when I was the acting attorney general."

Both declined to say whether they thought Kane made the right decision in aborting the investigation. Said Corbett: "I have my own personal opinions, and I'm not sharing them."

Still, Corbett and Ryan's remarks were the most expansive yet by Kane's predecessors since The Inquirer revealed the existence of the now-shuttered investigation on March 16.

Kane's office declined to respond to the governor's comments.

When Kane, a Democrat, took office last year, she shut down the investigation without bringing any charges. She has said that although she believes crimes occurred, the sting was poorly executed and possibly tainted by racial profiling.

She has also said that the credibility of the sting's undercover operative, Philadelphia lobbyist Tyron B. Ali, was so damaged that the case could not have successfully been prosecuted.

The Inquirer has reported that during the sting, Ali recorded five Philadelphia Democrats - four state legislators and a Traffic Court judge - accepting money or gifts.

Kane has said that her Republican predecessors - Corbett, Ryan, and Linda Kelly - all chose not to bring charges in the case. Kelly has declined to discuss the investigation.

The prosecutors who ran the sting - and who no longer work for the Attorney General's Office - have countered that it was a by-the-book investigation and have denied that they engaged in racial targeting.

They have said that the sting developed strong evidence against several elected officials and had the potential to ensnare more.

Transcripts of the tapes obtained by The Inquirer show that the majority of Ali's recorded conversations with targets took place during Ryan's and Kelly's tenures running the Attorney General's Office.

Kane has acknowledged that crimes occurred. At a news conference last week, Kane's senior counsel, Bruce Beemer, said there was evidence that "individuals took money and other things of value," and that they did not report them on their annual financial-disclosure forms.

"That is a criminal activity," Beemer said.

But Beemer, who listened to all of the tapes and reviewed the case for Kane, said he did not find sufficient evidence  to prove bribery.

Those captured on tape accepting money include Reps. Ron Waters, Vanessa Brown, Michelle Brownlee, and Louise Bishop. Bishop has denied taking anything from Ali. Brownlee has said she does not recall accepting money. Waters has said he may have accepted something from Ali for his birthday. Brown has declined to comment.

In defending her office's handling of the case, Kane has said that other law enforcement agencies, including "federal authorities," agreed that the sting case could not have been prosecuted successfully. She has declined to identify those federal authorities.

The Inquirer has reported that both the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Philadelphia never made a judgment on whether the case could hold up in court.

Kane has also said that Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico agreed the case was flawed. Marsico has confirmed that, but acknowledged that his office did not review the actual case file or listen to any of the tapes, relying instead on information provided by the Attorney General's Office.

Late last week, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams asked Kane to hand over all of the original evidence, as well as any internal memos, letters, and e-mails from her office pertaining to the sting case. The prosecutors and the lead investigator in the sting case now work for Williams.

Kane's office has not said whether she intends to turn over the materials.


acouloumbis@phillynews.com

717-787-5934 @AngelasInk

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