D.A. Seth Williams is convening a grand jury to investigate allegations of political corruption first reported in connection to , top left, former Traffic Court judge Thomasine Tynes, and Democratic state representatives (clockwise from top right) Ronald Waters, Louise Bryant, Michelle Brownlee and Vanessa Brown. Credit: provided
An investigatory grand jury of 36 men and women will review the evidence from a controversial undercover sting that reportedly reveals at least five instances of local public servants illegally accepting gifts or bribes, D.A. Seth Williams announced today.
“I won’t allow this case to just disappear. There has to be accountability,” D.A. Williams said on Wednesday.
In March, the Inquirer reported that Attorney General Kathleen Kane dropped an investigation launched under in 2010 under then-Attorney General Tom Corbett that reportedly found four local legislators and a Traffic Court judge illegally accepted gifts and cash. Kane did not file criminal charges.
State Rep. Louise Bishop, State Rep. Ronald G. Waters, State Rep. Michelle Brownlee, State Rep. Vanessa Brown (all Democrats from Philadelphia), and former Traffic Court Judge Thomasine Tynes were reportedly taped receiving gifts which they did not report as required by law from a lobbyist named Tyron Ali, who was in fact an undercover operative.
“I concluded that the evidence was worth another look,” Williams said Wednesday. “In the end, the citizens of Pennsylvania didn’t have a clear answer to the most important question: did their public officials break the law by accepting payments for improper purposes? I thought they deserved an answer to that question.”
According to the Inquirer story on these alleged non-reported gifts, Bishop allegedly received $1,500.
Waters allegedly received $7,650.
Brownlee allegedly received $3,500.
Brown allegedly received $4,000.
Tynes allegedly received a Tiffany’s bracelet worth $2,000.
But Williams, who has reviewed some of the evidence – which he said consisted of hundreds of hours of tapes – made statements which implied other elected officials may be involved as well.
“This investigation is much more expansive than what has previously been reported,” Williams said, declining to speak further.
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported in April that unsealed court documents show a total of 12 legislators and lobbyists accepted cash or gifts from Ali while he wore a wire.
Kane has harshly criticized the Inquirer story, and on the day it was published called it “inaccurate and sensational” and based on “allegations made by several cowardly anonymous sources.”
“This investigation was not only deeply flawed, but unraveled long before I was elected and then took the oath of office,” Kane said in March.
She later claimed that the investigation was racist and only targeted black people, that Ali was not credible because he served as an operative in return for dismissal of charges of embezzling $430,000 in welfare benefits, and that federal prosecutors who reviewed the evidence told her the evidence was not prosecutable.
Investigators Frank Fina and Claude Thomas, who worked on the original investigation and now work for D.A. Williams, denied that the investigation involved racial targeting. Thomas is African American.
Williams also stated that federal prosecutors never reviewed the case.
Kane later met with the Inquirer and brought an attorney who threatened to file a personal defamation lawsuit against the newspaper related to their coverage.
Kane’s spokesman J.J. Abbott declined to comment on D.A. Williams’ decision to convene a grand jury, or on the status of that lawsuit.