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Pennsylvania AG defends shutdown of pol probe, says case was mishandled

Posted Mar 18, 2014 12:02 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane says she shut down a sting operation involving eight targets because the probe was mishandled before she took office last year.

In a news conference on Monday, Kane responded to a Philadelphia Inquirer story that said she shut down a probe that ensnared four Democratic lawmakers and a traffic court judge. Anonymous sources told the newspaper that both Republicans and Democrats were offered money, but only Democrats accepted. The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette covered the news conference, while the Patriot-News published a statement she released Sunday.

Prosecutors who launched the probe in 2010 alleged that Kane ended the probe for political reasons, But Kane offered other reasons for her decision. She told reporters Monday that the case was tainted by racism because prosecutors had sought to target only members of the General Assembly’s black caucus. She also said the credibility of the undercover operative was compromised when the lead prosecutor in the sting operation dismissed more than 2,000 charges against the operative in a fraud and theft case.

Kane called the sealed decision to drop charges “the deal of the century” and said her office did not make any decisions based on political parties.

The former traffic court judge acknowledged in an Inquirer interview that she accepted a $2,000 Tiffany bracelet. At first the judge said she mailed the bracelet back to the operative, but later said she lost track of it and discovered it was in her safety deposit box.

A Philadelphia Daily News story outlines unanswered questions in the case, including the issue of what laws, if any, were actually broken. “Bizarre as it sounds,” the Daily News says, “it's not necessarily illegal in Pennsylvania for a lobbyist to hand an envelope stuffed with thousands of dollars in cash to an elected official. Experts say that at least 35 other states have stricter limits on gifts. Of course, even in Pennsylvania it's bribery to give a politician cash in a quid pro quo for some official action, but news accounts have suggested that there's little evidence of that.”

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