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.”