Two top DEP officials resign over porn e-mails

Justice Seamus McCaffery
Justice Seamus McCaffery
Posted: October 04, 2014

HARRISBURG - Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary E. Christopher Abruzzo and a top aide resigned Thursday over revelations that they were among dozens of state officials who sent or received pornographic e-mails over state computers.

In a letter to Gov. Corbett, Abruzzo said he had not been able to review the explicit messages he allegedly sent or received, but said he accepted responsibility for "any lack of judgment" he may have exhibited. He added: "It is my concern that these assertions have become a distraction from the great record of this administration."

Hours later, the department's deputy chief counsel, Glenn Parno, also resigned.

Their resignations made them the first high-ranking casualties of a scandal that has coursed through the capital as Corbett vies for a second term and one that widened Thursday to touch one of the state's most prominent judges, Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery.

Abruzzo, of Hershey, and Parno, of Camp Hill, were among eight state officials - including State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan - who Attorney General Kathleen Kane disclosed last week had sent or received hundreds of sexually explicit photos, videos, and messages from state e-mail accounts between 2008 and 2012.

Kane said she released their names and contents of the e-mails because it was in the public's "best interest" to know how public officials conduct business on state time. The e-mails were sent or received while each worked for Corbett or his two successors in the Attorney General's Office between 2008 and 2010.

In a statement announcing the resignations, the governor said he does not "condone or tolerate comments or behavior degrading to individuals, written or otherwise."

"This type of activity does not belong in the workplace and I find it inexcusable," Corbett said.

Corbett also said the information he received regarding Noonan's e-mail account "indicates that he did not participate in opening, originating, forwarding or replying to any message." He said Noonan should remain focused on the massive manhunt he is leading in northeastern Pennsylvania for Eric Frein, who is accused of killing a state trooper and seriously wounding another.

Corbett again called on Kane to release everything she has "on all individuals associated with this issue."

Critics have privately pointed out that each of the eight men named by Kane, a Democrat, had worked for Republican administrations.

In releasing the limited list of names last week, Kane said that labor agreements and human resources policies barred her from identifying any current employees in her office. It was not clear what policies might have precluded her from providing a complete list; prosecutors in the office are not unionized.

McCaffery's was not among the names released by Kane.

According to copies of e-mail exchanges obtained this week by The Inquirer, some of the sexually explicit messages had been forwarded from a personal e-mail account of McCaffery's to an agent in the Attorney General's Office. The agent then circulated the e-mails to dozens of other government employees: In all, more than 100 recipients received them, about 20 of whom still work for Kane.

The messages include images of scantily clad women, photos of female genitalia, and sexually explicit videos. They were sent in 2008 and 2009.

Representatives for Kane would not confirm or comment Thursday on any possible role by the justice in the e-mail exchanges, first reported by the Allentown Morning Call.

McCaffery told that newspaper: "Not only do I not have any comment, since when does the news media pry into personal e-mails?"

In a statement issued later Thursday, McCaffery's lawyer, Dion Rassias, said: "I just wonder why a half-dozen private e-mails, allegedly from Justice McCaffery's personal computer, are front-page news, or is it just a wild coincidence that he's the only one who has filed a lawsuit against The Inquirer for invasion of privacy and defamation? I'm guessing that there's a really long list of extremely uncomfortable people out there, but Justice McCaffery isn't one of them."

(McCaffery, a former police officer and judge in Philadelphia, and his wife, Lise Rapaport, have sued The Inquirer, accusing the newspaper of maliciously tarnishing their reputations in stories on fees Rapaport received for referring clients to personal-injury law firms. The litigation is pending, although Inquirer editors have stood by the stories.)

The e-mails released last week are among hundreds unearthed by the Attorney General's Office during its internal review of its predecessors' handling of the Jerry Sandusky sex-abuse investigation. Sources have told The Inquirer that scores of current and former state employees, including top jurists, were involved in the e-mail exchanges.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille has asked Kane to turn over any e-mails with explicit content that her office discovered had been sent by judicial employees. Castille said exchanging pornography could be a breach of judicial ethics.

The Attorney General's Office has said it was still reviewing the request.

The other officials in the e-mail exchange whom Kane identified last week include Kevin Harley, who had been Corbett's top spokesman when Corbett was attorney general and after he became governor; former ranking prosecutor Patrick Blessington, who now works with the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office; Chris Carusone, Corbett's former liaison to the legislature; Richard A. Sheetz, former executive deputy attorney general in the office's Criminal Law division; and retired agent Randy Feathers, appointed by Corbett to the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole.

All worked for Corbett when he headed the office.

Kane released the information after several news organizations, including The Inquirer, filed public records requests under the state's Right-to-Know law.

Corbett also asked Kane to send him detailed information about the e-mails, including who sent them, who received them, and whether they were opened or forwarded.

Kane's office Thursday afternoon sent Corbett six booklets, each several inches thick, containing hundreds of e-mails received or sent by Abruzzo, Noonan, Carusone, and Parno. The office said it plans to release more e-mails Friday.

The heavily redacted e-mails have sexually suggestive subject lines and contain mostly forwarded material ranging from jokes about gays to comments about race and ethnicity. Many contain graphic depictions of sexual intercourse, anal sex, and oral sex.

In one November 2010 exchange, Abruzzo wrote to a colleague that he intends to forward a sexually explicit e-mail to Carusone, whom he calls the "A-- MAN," and he makes a comment about Carusone and his wife. In another, a colleague forwarded Abruzzo an e-mail with two attached photos under the subject line "Which One is Blonde?"

Abruzzo's response: "Yummy."


acouloumbis@phillynews.com

717-787-5934

@AngelasInk

Inquirer staff writer Jason Laughlin contributed to this article.

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