Frank Fina, prosecutor ensnared in Porngate, leaves Phila. DA's office
June 8, 2016 11:00 AM
David Swanson/Philadelphia Inquirer
Frank Fina was part of the prosecution team in the Jerry Sandusky trial June 2012.
Matt Rourke/Associated Press
Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane speaks during a news conference in August 2015.
By Craig R. McCoy and Chris Palmer / The Philadelphia Inquirer
Frank Fina, the former top state prosecutor who won convictions of nearly two dozen Republican and Democratic lawmakers in Harrisburg, but was later caught up in a scandal over pornographic emails, has resigned from the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office.
Mr. Fina said he would pursue a second career as a criminal defense lawyer and investigator, working for corporate clients and others.
He submitted a letter of resignation May 9 and officially left June 1.
District Attorney Seth Williams "wishes Mr. Fina the best after his many decades of service" as a prosecutor, a spokesman for Mr. Williams said Tuesday.
Mr. Fina has been a controversial figure since state Attorney General Kathleen Kane targeted him for criticism over his exchange of offensive emails on state computers.
Ms. Kane and women's groups lambasted Mr. Fina, calling his messages misogynistic and, in a few cases, racially offensive.
Mr. Williams said Ms. Kane had unfairly singled out Mr. Fina for attack while giving a pass to others. In a defamation suit against Ms. Kane, Mr. Fina alleged that she used the porn issue as part of a "personal and political vendetta" against him.
As prosecutor for a decade in the Attorney General's Office, Mr. Fina led high-profile investigations such as the inquiry that led to the conviction of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky and the corruption probes dubbed Bonusgate and Computergate.
He left the office after clashing with Ms. Kane even before she took office in January 2013, and the battle kept escalating.
Ms. Kane blamed him for an Inquirer story reporting that she had secretly shut down an undercover sting investigation that Mr. Fina launched against Philadelphia legislators.
She also contended that Mr. Fina "corruptly manufactured" the pending criminal case against her. Prosecutors say she lied under oath about leaking confidential information to embarrass Mr. Fina.
On Tuesday, Mr. Fina rejected the idea that he had been locked in a feud with Kane.
"Whatever damage that has occurred to her has been a consequence entirely of her own decisions," he said. "It's all self-inflicted. I have not been a participant in her paranoia."
Ms. Kane had no comment on Mr. Fina's departure, her office said.
Mr. Fina, 50, said he was not forced out. "This is entirely my own decision," he said.
Mr. Fina joined the District Attorney's Office the three years ago. After Ms. Kane publicly criticized him and a handful of other men for their exchange of pornographic and otherwise offensive emails, City Council members, some state legislators, and the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for Women condemned their behavior.
Natalie Catin-St. Louis, president of NOW's Philadelphia chapter, said her group welcomed Mr. Fina's resignation. She called his email traffic "disgusting."
Mr. Williams had rebuffed demands that he fire Mr. Fina and two other former state prosecutors on his staff tied to the emails, but he later transferred them to lower-profile assignments. Mr. Fina was moved from handling corruption cases to the civil litigation unit.
While a state prosecutor, Mr. Fina mounted corruption investigations against both Republicans and Democrats, winning the convictions of 23 state legislators and aides in the Bonusgate and Computergate probes.
The Bonusgate cases focused on the Democrats' giving illegal taxpayer-paid bonuses to reward staff for campaign work, while Computergate revealed how Republicans had illegally spent up to $10 million in public money to develop sophisticated software to win elections.
From the standpoint of his supporters, Mr. Fina was a born prosecutor — tireless, confident, full of zeal. His determined and aggressive style earned him the nickname "Sonny," after the oldest son in The Godfather.
His detractors — and there were plenty in the Capitol -- called Mr. Fina and his team hard-edged, profane, and abusive.
On Tuesday, Mr. Fina said he believed the investigations he led transformed the state's political culture.
"We stopped the use of $20 million in taxpayer money for campaigns. That stopped — I really believe that," Mr. Fina said. "We made it a lot of harder for them to use the taxpayers' checkbook for their own purposes."
As for the investigation of Sandusky, Mr. Fina said he and his fellow prosecutors had conducted a painstaking inquiry that led to his conviction for sexually abusing 10 child victims.
Mr. Fina also played a key role in the investigation of Penn State's top administrators, including its former president, that led to their being charged with covering up Sandusky's misconduct.
But in a stinging ruling in January, a state appeals court tossed out the most serious charge against those defendants. In doing so, the court lambasted Mr. Fina, saying his questioning of a key witness had been "highly improper" and unfair. Fina said the appeals court had badly misread the record of the case.
The Sandusky prosecution first pitted Ms. Kane against Mr. Fina.
On her way to a landslide victory in 2012, Ms. Kane, a Democrat, campaigned by raising questions about the abuse investigation, suggesting that Mr. Fina and Gov. Tom Corbett had "slow-walked" the probe. The charge resonated among some Penn State alumni and fans.
A law professor later appointed by Ms. Kane to reinvestigate the investigation said Mr. Fina might have arrested Sandusky sooner, but found no evidence that politics had affected the case.
In an offshoot of the reinvestigation of the Sandusky case, Ms. Kane learned that her computer servers had for years been a hub for the exchange of troubling email messages among prosecutors, investigators, judges, and defense lawyers.
In all, the emails were exchanged among scores of men and women, in and out of public jobs. On her staff alone, Ms. Kane disciplined about 60 people.
While Ms. Kane steadfastly refused to identify all participants, in 2014 she named eight recipients, including several top aides to Mr. Corbett. All eight had ties to Mr. Fina.
As she fought back against the investigation that ultimately led to her arrest last summer, Kane filed court papers attacking Mr. Fina and another former state prosecutor, calling them "porn peddlers," and blaming them for starting the investigation that led to the charges against her.
Mr. Fina, for his part, filed a defamation suit against Kane last year, saying she had used the pornographic emails selectively as a weapon.
In December, Ms. Kane appointed Douglas Gansler, a former attorney general of Maryland, to report on the emails and identify those involved.
In late May, Mr. Gansler said he would release his report this month. Mr. Fina submitted his resignation weeks before Mr. Gansler made that announcement.