Pennsylvania DEP secretary, lawyer resign amid email scandal
Departures follow attorney general’s discovery of explicit images in old state email
October 2, 2014 11:30 PM
Matt Rourke/Associated Press
Gov. Tom Corbett on Thursday announced the resignations of DEP Secretary Christopher Abruzzo and Glenn Parno, a top DEP lawyer amid an email controversy.
Pennsylvania Environmental Protection Secretary Christopher Abruzzo has resigned his post.
By Karen Langley / Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau
HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s top environmental regulator and a ranking agency lawyer resigned Thursday in the first major fallout since Attorney General Kathleen Kane disclosed that state employees, some of them deputies of Gov. Tom Corbett, had exchanged sexually explicit images through government email.
Christopher Abruzzo, secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, resigned midday and Glenn Parno, DEP deputy chief counsel, did so in the evening.
After receiving information about the emails Thursday afternoon from the attorney general’s office, Mr. Corbett said in a statement that there was no indication State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan, also named by Ms. Kane’s aides, had composed, opened, forwarded or replied to any messages with explicit content. The attorney general’s office had said his account had received 338 such messages.
“It is important that Commissioner Noonan remain focused on the critical public safety mission he is leading in the manhunt for Eric Frein and that there is no disruption in the work underway in this case,” Mr. Corbett said in the statement.
The police have searched for weeks for the suspect in an ambush in northeastern Pennsylvania that left one state trooper dead and another wounded.
The three members of Mr. Corbett’s administration were among eight men whom aides to Ms. Kane identified last week as having formerly held email accounts, from their previous jobs in the attorney general’s office, that contained explicit images. The aides invited reporters to the attorney general’s Harrisburg offices Sept. 25 to view what they described as a sample of the photographs of naked women and videos of sex acts allegedly found in the old email accounts.
The circle of alleged participants broadened Thursday when the Morning Call of Allentown reported that Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery had forwarded at least eight sexually explicit emails to an employee of the attorney general’s office. The newspaper reviewed emails sent from Justice McCaffery’s personal email account.
Chief Justice Ronald Castille has asked the attorney general’s office to identify any judicial official who participated in the alleged exchange. Such behavior could violate the judicial code of conduct, he said earlier this week.
Ms. Kane, a Democrat, uncovered the emails as she fulfilled her campaign pledge to review how the attorney general’s office handled the investigation of child sexual abuse by former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. The case arrived at the office during the tenure of Mr. Corbett, a Republican, as attorney general.
In reviewing emails sent between 2008 and 2012, the office found the accounts of approximately 30 current workers also contained such materials. But it has maintained that human resource policies and union agreements prevent it from identifying those employees, though it has said some are being disciplined.
Mr. Abruzzo, a former deputy chief of staff to Mr. Corbett, had been acting secretary of DEP since April 2013, before being nominated by the governor that September and confirmed by the Senate in December 2013.
In his resignation letter Thursday, Mr. Abruzzo said he was concerned the allegations by the attorney general’s office had become a distraction.
“While I have no recollection of the specific accounts described by the media, I accept full responsibility for any lack of judgment I may have exhibited in 2009,” he wrote. “I do not condone that behavior and it is not a reflection of the person or professional that I am.”
Jay Pagni, spokesman for Mr. Corbett, said the governor had had conversations with Mr. Abruzzo but that the environmental secretary “resigned of his own accord.”
Dana Aunkst, the DEP executive deputy secretary for programs, will serve as acting secretary.
Hours later, after the Corbett administration received information from the attorney general’s office on the emails in the accounts of Mr. Abruzzo, Mr. Parno and Mr. Noonan, the governor’s office announced that Mr. Corbett had accepted Mr. Parno’s resignation.
“As I have said, I do not condone or tolerate comments or behavior degrading to individuals, written or otherwise,” Mr. Corbett said in his statement. “This type of activity does not belong in the workplace and I find it inexcusable.”
The attorney general’s office also provided reporters Thursday with hundreds of pages of printouts of emails, said to contain explicit images, that the office said had been found in the former agency accounts of Mr. Noonan, Mr. Parno and Mr. Abruzzo, as well as that of Christopher Carusone, Mr. Corbett’s former secretary of legislative affairs. The office redacted the names of many senders and recipients.
The tone of the emails was not hidden. Some subject lines contained warnings, such as “xxx (careful)” and “OPEN IN PRIVATE.” There were the subject lines “Naked Joke of the day” and “Can you identify this naked woman????”
The attorney general’s office was expected to provide information as soon as today about Randy Feathers, a member of the state Board of Probation and Parole. Mr. Corbett’s former spokesman, Kevin Harley, was also named by the attorney general’s office.
In a written statement Thursday, Dion Rassias, attorney for Justice McCaffery, wondered why “a half dozen private emails, allegedly from Justice McCaffery’s personal computer, are front page news” -- and suggested it might be because Justice McCaffery had filed a lawsuit against the Philadelphia Inquirer in a separate matter.
“I’m guessing that there’s a really long list of extremely uncomfortable people out there, but Justice McCaffery isn’t one of them,” Mr. Rassias said.
Karen Langley: firstname.lastname@example.org or 717-787-2141 or on Twitter @karen_langley. Staff writer Kate Giammarise contributed.
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