May. 29, 2015

2 lawmakers, former House member arrested on corruption charges

Story from Associated Press

An influence-peddling case that Attorney General  Kathleen Kane rejected has netted six arrests of public officials on bribery  charges and the Philadelphia district attorney's investigation continues, a lead  prosecutor said Tuesday.

“It's definitely still open,” Assistant District  Attorney Brad Bender said of the investigation when District Attorney Seth  Williams announced charges of conspiracy, bribery and conflict of interest  against two more sitting lawmakers and a former representative.

Reps. Michelle Brownlee, 58, and Louise Bishop, 81,  and former Rep. Harold James, 72, all Philadelphia Democrats, surrendered to  state police in Harrisburg. None of the three, released on recognizance bonds,  could be reached for comment.

Williams said Bishop accepted $1,500 in three  payments, Brownlee took one payment of $2,000, and James accepted $750. They did  not disclose the payments as campaign contributions or gifts as required.Williams said he had looked up to Bishop, a reverend  with a gospel radio show. She would not answer a grand jury's questions, he  said, but Brownlee and James admitted to taking money illegally.

House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody of Oakmont said  the charges “disappointed and saddened” him.

“The people of Pennsylvania place tremendous  responsibility and trust in those they elect to represent them in the General  Assembly, and it is unfortunate when that trust is compromised in any way,” Dermody said.

Williams has charged six current and former officials  in the influence-peddling investigation that utilized an informant posing as a  lobbyist and wearing a hidden video camera. Williams took the sting case from  Kane last year.

Informant Tyron Ali secretly filmed exchanges of  cash, campaign donations and, in one case, a gift. The lawmakers promised to  push legislation, Williams said. 

“This is on tape. You can't get better evidence than  that,” said Assistant District Attorney Mark Gilson.

Bishop agreed to “stack” a liquor control committee  to help push to privatize the industry on the lobbyist's behalf, Williams said.  He said several lawmakers turned Ali away.

Kane, the first Democrat and woman elected as  attorney general, in 2013 shelved the case that began under former Attorney  General Tom Corbett. 

“The six indicted owe their indictments to Kathleen  Kane,” Williams said. He said Kane “is her own worst enemy.”

Kane had no comment.

Kane had called the case “not prosecutable.” She said  it appeared to target blacks, lacked a clear quid pro quo and was weakened by  credibility issues because prosecutors dropped fraud charges against Ali. She  later acknowledged that she had dismissed his charges.

The charges against James, a former Philadelphia  police officer, were unexpected. The Philadelphia newspapers had reported  Brownlee and Bishop were under investigation.

Williams late last year accused Reps. Ronald Waters  and Vanessa Brown, also Philadelphia Democrats, of taking cash from Ali. Charges  against them are pending. Williams said both admitted to taking illegal  payments.

Former Philadelphia Traffic Court Judge Thomasine  Tynes, who admitted to accepting a $2,000 Tiffany bracelet from Ali, pleaded  guilty to conflict of interest. She is serving a two-year federal prison term on  perjury charges from a ticket-fixing case.

Waters, Brown, Brownlee and Bishop still participate  in House activity. A House Ethics Committee investigation is awaiting the  conclusion of the criminal cases. 

Williams took the sting case after a public spat with  Kane over her claim that racism had tainted it. Corbett's former prosecutors who  initiated the case work for Williams. 

Williams and the lead agent are black. The  majority-black Philadelphia grand jury found no racism, Williams said. He termed  that claim “insulting.” 

Read more: