Pa. AG Kane charged with crimes; governor urges her resignation |
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Pa. AG Kane charged with crimes; governor urges her resignation

Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman walks to a news conference on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015, in Norristown. Ferman announced charges against Attorney General Kathleen Kane of leaking secret grand jury information and lying about her actions under oath.

NORRISTOWN — In an office filled with political intrigue and astonishing vindictiveness, Attorney General Kathleen Kane gave her personal driver and bodyguard so much power that others called him the chief of staff. She asked him and another confidant to look secretly at employees' emails.

Documents released Thursday — charging Kane with crimes related to leaking secret court files to embarrass a former prosecutor — paint a vivid picture of a dysfunctional office in which Kane intimidated and threatened to fire underlings to get them to do her bidding, undercut her top deputy and later tried to blame him for her legal woes.

“This is war,” Kane declared about her political foes in Philadelphia, according to the story investigators for Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman laid out in a 42-page criminal complaint.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf called the charges serious and troubling. He urged Kane, the first woman and Democrat elected to the office, to resign.

“She will have time to defend herself, and I think she needs to do that, but in the meantime, I am calling on her to step aside, step down as attorney general,” Wolf said.

Kane, 49, of Scranton vowed to fight the charges of perjury, obstruction of justice and abuse of office.

“A resignation would be an admission of guilt, and I'm not guilty,” she said in a statement.

Ferman said she will prosecute Kane for violating grand jury secrecy laws and lying about her actions under oath to a statewide grand jury in November.

“No one is above the law, not even the chief law enforcement officer of the state of Pennsylvania,” Ferman said. “… When someone entrusted with upholding the law violates that oath, we are all victims.”

Ferman charged Kane's security agent Patrick Reese, a former Dunmore police chief, with indirect criminal contempt, saying he gained access to the files of the grand jury that was investigating his boss.

An audit of emails stored in the office computer system showed that Reese often searched emails that might contain information about the grand jury's investigation of her, according to a separate criminal complaint against Reese.

With key words, Reese searched for emails regarding the grand jury, its supervising Montgomery County Judge William Carpenter, its special prosecutor Thomas Carluccio, and even retired Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Castille, who supervised all statewide investigating grand juries, the complaint says.

He searched for reporters who wrote critically of Kane and topics such as “subpoenas” and “transcripts.” The searches increased in frequency and were “clearly directed at gaining access to information they were prohibited from knowing,” the complaint says.

At Kane's suggestion, Reese gained access to the system at the request of David C. Peifer, special agent in charge of special investigations. Peifer was not charged.

Many of the searches violated a judge's order to protect grand jury witnesses, the complaint says.

Kane likely will be arraigned by video conference Saturday in a district judge's office, Ferman said.

Kane's New York City lawyer Gerald Shargel said she would plead not guilty and seek a jury trial.

Reese, 47, represented by Harrisburg attorney Bill Fetterhoff, will appear at a hearing before Carpenter, not scheduled. Fetterhoff declined to comment.

The documents show Kane's control over her office unraveling as she encountered turmoil during her three-year tenure: an exodus of top aides, feuds with former prosecutors and people on staff, and misstatements she had to retract.

“If I get taken out of here in handcuffs, what do you think my last act will be?” investigators said Kane told First Deputy Bruce Beemer and three other top aides, inferring they'd be fired if they did not challenge protective orders Carpenter issued for witnesses from her office.

Kane so trusted Reese and Peifer that she tasked them with “secretly or surreptitiously review(ing) emails of employees,” Kane's former first deputy, Adrian King, testified.

Reese was one of two former Dunmore police officers with Kane in a car accident there on Oct. 21, 2014. He, Kane and agent Robert Ruddy, 49, claimed injuries from the minor crash on the morning Kane was scheduled to testify before the grand jury. She missed the appearance and had missed an earlier one.

Reese, one of Kane's two security agents who drove her state-owned vehicle, is paid $99,658. He has known Kane for at least 20 years.

A retaliatory crime

Kane leaked information to a political operative to pass to a Philadelphia newspaper “in hopes of embarrassing and harming former state prosecutors she believed, without evidence, made her look bad,” Ferman said.

In an email exchange with an unnamed media strategist, Kane vowed to go after former top prosecutor Frank Fina and his boss, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, the documents allege. Williams took a so-called “sting case” that Kane would not prosecute; he charged five former and current Democratic lawmakers and an ex-Philadelphia Traffic Court judge with bribery and has secured four guilty pleas to date.

“I will not allow them to discredit me or my office,” Kane wrote in the email. “This is war.”

The documents say Kane's war “was not limited to Fina but anyone associated with him.” She wrote in an email that she would “make Seth pay.”

Williams issued a statement in response to the charges against Kane, saying it's a bad day for law enforcement but also “a bright one” because “even the attorney general … is not beyond the efforts of local prosecutors, judges and grand jurors to uncover evidence of abuse of office.”

The charges against Kane stem from a 2009 investigation of J. Whyatt Mondesire, former head of the Philadelphia NAACP, before she was attorney general. Mondesire, who was never charged with a crime, said the leak damaged his reputation. Kane admitted she authorized releasing information about the case but claimed it did not include secret grand jury material.

She used her political consultant, Joshua Morrow, to deliver documents to Philadelphia Daily News reporter Chris Brennan, the grand jury found. Kane gave a sealed envelope to King, her former first assistant, to deliver to Morrow. King testified that he thought it held campaign material.

Ferman spent four months independently investigating the grand jury report, released in April, which recommended charging Kane criminally.

A problematic term

As the investigation went on, top staffers began to depart Kane's office.

Kane fired one staffer, James Barker, who headed the appeals section and oversaw grand juries. He was under a protective order from the court and had testified before the grand jury that investigated her.

Barker's firing is among items Ferman's office continues to investigate, the district attorney said.

The last attorney general charged with a crime was Republican Ernie Preate of Scranton.

If Kane doesn't step down, an emergency procedure enables the Supreme Court and the lawyer disciplinary board to remove her from office by revoking her law license for “egregious conduct,” said Preate, who resigned from the office in 1995 with a guilty plea to mail fraud and served 11 months in prison.

“You can't be attorney general unless you are a lawyer,” Preate said. “For sure it will happen, as soon as she is charged — within 24 hours.”

If she were suspended, it would not be disbarment, a court official said. Kane would be entitled to disciplinary proceedings.

Kane has said she intends to run for re-election next year.

If she changes her mind and steps down, the Commonwealth Attorneys Act says Beemer, the first deputy, would become interim attorney general until a successor is appointed to complete the four-year term Kane began in 2013. Wolf would nominate a successor, who must be approved by two-thirds of the Senate's 50 members.

Jennifer Kocher, spokeswoman for Senate Republicans, said the allegations raise questions about the state's “top prosecutor being prosecuted while defending herself from a felony.”

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or [email protected].

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