D.A. hands controversial public corruption case to grand jury

MICHAEL BRYANT / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER District Attorney Seth Williams, backed by his team of investigators, announces he'll hand the public-corruption sting case to a grand jury, after the attorney general challenged him to run with it.
MICHAEL BRYANT / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER District Attorney Seth Williams, backed by his team of investigators, announces he'll hand the public-corruption sting case to a grand jury, after the attorney general challenged him to run with it.
Posted: June 20, 2014

DISTRICT ATTORNEY Seth Williams, who has criticized state Attorney General Kathleen Kane's decision to shut down a public corruption probe, yesterday handed the case to a local grand jury for further investigation.

Williams said he has listened to or watched some of the audio and video secretly recorded by lobbyist Tyron Ali, allegedly capturing four state representatives and a former Traffic Court judge accepting money or gifts.

Kane, responding in March to an Inquirer story about the Ali case, said Ali made 113 recordings from October 2010 to April 2012. From her statement, it is clear that more than just the four Philadelphia legislators and the judge - all Democrats - were recorded by Ali.

Asked who the grand jury will investigate, Williams yesterday declined to answer but hinted at a potentially larger case.

"This investigation is much more expansive than what has been previously reported," Williams said, adding that there are "others on the periphery who have not been named."

Williams, who has clashed publicly with Kane and accepted her challenge to pick up and run with the case, said more than once that the grand jury process will help remove politics and personalities from the investigation.

It is clear animosity lingers.

Williams, speaking of Kane, quoted Sylvester Stallone's character John Rambo in the movie "First Blood" - "I didn't draw first blood. They did."

Kane, through a spokesman, declined to comment yesterday.

Despite his criticism of Kane, Williams said it is possible that no charges will be filed or that the grand jury will recommend only changes to the state law that allows legislators to accept gifts.

"The grand jury might conclude: No harm, no foul," Williams said. "The grand jury could say one person should be prosecuted or no people should be prosecuted or eight people should be prosecuted."

Williams, who said the State Police are assisting his office in the grand jury inquiry, noted that the state Legislature and other agencies may also be investigating.

"I am confident that they will cooperate with us by standing down and allowing the grand jury process to go forward without interference or competition," he said.

Williams predicted that the grand jury of 36 Philadelphia residents will take "months, not years" to complete the task.

Ali secretly recorded conversations with the representatives - Ronald Waters, Vanessa Lowery Brown, Michelle Brownlee and Louise Bishop - and former Traffic Court Judge Thomasine Tynes, according to the Inquirer.

For his cooperation with the Attorney General's Office, 2,033 counts accusing Ali of stealing $430,000 from a state program meant for poor children and senior citizens were dropped.

Kane said that "extraordinarily lenient" deal for Ali, which took place before she took office in January 2013, "crippled the chance" of the public corruption case being prosecuted.

That case started when Gov. Corbett held that office and was long dormant when Kane was sworn in, she has said.

The state prosecutors who led the Ali investigation now work for Williams.

While the legal fallout from the investigation is still unknown in the case, there has been little political impact for the legislators.

Waters, Bishop and Brownlee were unopposed in the May 20 Democratic primary election and have no Republican challengers in the Nov. 4 general election.

Brown won a three-way primary with 60 percent of the vote and has no Republican challenger.

Tynes is on trial in federal court now in an unrelated traffic-ticket-fixing case.


On Twitter: @ChrisBrennanDN

Blog: ph.ly/PhillyClout.com

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