Judge opens secret court records

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HARRISBURG -- A Dauphin County Court judge on Thursday made public a wealth of documents detailing the secret sting investigation that recorded Philadelphia Democrats accepting money and gifts -- and revealing a fierce behind-the-scenes legal fight about the undercover operative at the heart of the operation.

The records revealed that the operative, Philadelphia lobbyist Tyron B. Ali, said he had bribed numerous state representatives, who he said "engaged in public corruption through the sale of their votes for cash."

Although the records do not name the public officials, Mr. Ali claimed in them that seven state representatives took money as gifts or campaign contributions, two accepted meals and beverages, and yet another received meals and baseball tickets.

President Judge Todd A. Hoover ordered the documents unsealed after appeals from nearly a dozen media organizations, including The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Attorney General Kathleen Kane said she was "gratified" by Judge Hoover's decision to unseal the documents related to Mr. Ali.

But she said she believed the records would demonstrate that, despite Mr. Ali's assertions, she stood by her office's assessment that the sting was poorly managed, possibly tainted by racial profiling and would not have been able to be successfully prosecuted.

She has also said the case was fatally undermined by an agreement to drop all charges against Mr. Ali, a Philadelphia lobbyist who had been arrested in a $430,000 fraud case in 2009 and was facing 2,088 charges.

Ms. Kane, after she took office in January, decided to end the sting.

On Thursday, she acknowledged the public scrutiny that has ensued after her decision. She said she continues to believe her office made the right decision.

"I have thick skin and I can take the criticism," she said. "We just wanted to be able to tell our story."

Supporters of the sting operation said it was carefully executed and should have been allowed to move forward. They vigorously denied any racial profiling.

Those who led the investigation say Ms. Kane killed a solid case that had ensnared numerous public officials and had the potential to draw in more.

The documents the judge ordered released provided the broad outlines and many details of the 19-month sting operation. Much of the information had been previously reported by news organizations.

The 58 documents, spanning nearly a thousand pages and made public on a court website late Thursday, provided some fresh information, though.

Among the revelations were that in a move to force Ms. Kane from any role in the case, Mr. Ali's lawyer, Robert Levant, asserted that his client had given $8,000 in cash to a Kane campaign supporter in 2009. Campaigns are forbidden to accept more than $100 in cash. He suggested that she had a conflict in the case.

Ms. Kane has said she had only a distant relationship with the campaign supporter and that Mr. Ali's allegations were uncorroborated.

In releasing the documents, the judge struck from a key legal pleading almost all of Ms. Kane's arguments -- removing 15 of 17 paragraphs -- in what amounted to her defense of her handling of the sting.

The statements were included in her motion in support of unsealing the documents.

Ms. Kane also issued a pointed challenge this week to one of the loudest critics of her decision to quash the sting investigation:

You think the case is so solid? You prosecute it.

In a letter sent Wednesday to Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, Ms. Kane said that "any law enforcement agency interested in taking this case should do so." She added: "I invite you to contact our office to set up a time to accept the evidence."

Mr. Williams wrote back within hours, telling the attorney general to hand over all of the original evidence as well as any internal memos, letters and emails from her office pertaining to the case.

As of late Thursday, Mr. Williams' office said it had not received any response to its request for the case file. A spokesman for Ms. Kane did not immediately answer questions on whether her office would send the file.

But even if the documents are turned over, Mr. Williams wrote, Ms. Kane's recent statements could make the case difficult, if not impossible, to prosecute.

First Published April 10, 2014 5:04 PM

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