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Former prosecutors file federal lawsuit against Pennsylvania AG Kane | TribLIVE.com
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Former prosecutors file federal lawsuit against Pennsylvania AG Kane

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Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane leaves after her preliminary hearing Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015, at the Montgomery County courthouse in Norristown.
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Former Chief Deputy Attorney General Frank Fina, shown in a June file photo, asked a judge to block release of the emails. His name was not included in the emails first released.

HARRISBURG — Attorney General Kathleen Kane “launched a vendetta” against former prosecutors and agents who opposed her, using the power of her taxpayer-funded office to retaliate, according to a federal lawsuit filed Thursday.

Former employees of the office who filed the lawsuit said they helped expose Kane’s alleged criminal and ethical violations as the state’s chief law enforcement officer.

“Kane has misused the power of her office, and its publicly funded resources, for the purpose of silencing her critics through a pattern of intimidation, attempted blackmail and vindictive retaliation,” says the lawsuit filed by Philadelphia lawyer Mark Tanner, who represents five men.

The plaintiffs — former investigations head and state police commander Frank Noonan; former Chief Deputy Frank Fina; former Senior Deputy E. Marc Costanzo; former Executive Deputy Rick Sheetz, who headed the criminal law division; and Randy Feathers, a retired regional director of the Bureau of Narcotics Investigation and Control — seek damages for costs and punitive damages. Fina and Costanzo are assistant district attorneys in Philadelphia.

It seeks an injunction to prevent Kane from continuing alleged retaliatory actions and to order her to publicly apologize.

Kane, the lead defendant, “has not yet had an opportunity to review the suit but will certainly defend herself vigorously against any such claims,” said her spokesman Chuck Ardo.

“It is extraordinarily unusual” for prosecutors to sue an attorney general, said Bruce Antkowiak, law professor at St. Vincent College near Latrobe.

“Here again, we have reached another heretofore unimaginable plateau,” he said. Attorneys general have some immunity, but it is not absolute if they violated civil rights, he said.

Kane, 49, of Scranton is under scrutiny by the Senate because the Supreme Court suspended her law license indefinitely. She is charged with 12 criminal counts in Montgomery County, related to grand jury material from a 2009 case that was leaked to the Philadelphia Daily News.

A Senate committee will determine whether she can continue to do her job without a license.

Kane selectively uses racy emails found on the office computer system to threaten and retaliate against those who criticize her, but she protects the “emails of her friends, family and in the case of one trusted confidant,” agent Louis DeTitto, to whom she awarded a 16 percent raise, the lawsuit contends. DeTitto could not be reached.

Kane implicated the former prosecutors and agents in the email scandal. Fina and Costanzo were placed in a “false context” when Kane asserted they were core distributors of adult emails, they argue.

Kane fabricated alleged delays in the Jerry Sandusky child molestation investigation, led by Fina, and falsely claimed that delays resulted in two additional victims, the lawsuit claims. Her spokesman later backtracked on the statements.

Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant football coach, is serving a 30- to 60-year prison sentence for his 2012 conviction for abusing 10 boys.

The suit says Kane falsely accused the former staffers of involvement in child pornography during a CNN interview in November 2014. Kane’s office later acknowledged that no child pornography was found in emails. Photos of Noonan, Fina and Feathers were broadcast, and Kane had ample time to correct the pre-recorded interview before it aired, the lawsuit says.

“The horrific allegation is entirely false and is devastating to the reputation of men sworn to investigate and punish such activity,” the lawsuit claims.

In her criminal defense, Kane contends pornography sent among an “old boys’ network” in the attorney general’s office is the root of her legal problems. Kane’s lawyers contended in a court filing that Fina and Costanzo “corruptly manufactured” the investigation of the grand jury leak.

The lawsuit accuses Kane of conspiring to unlawfully release grand jury evidence in an investigation involving former Philadelphia NAACP head J. Whyatt Mondesire, who died recently. Mondesire was never charged.

Two other defendants in the lawsuit are Philadelphia Media Network, which owns the Philadelphia Daily News, and reporter Christopher Brennan, who wrote the Mondesire story for the Daily News. Brennan now works for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The newspapers’ parent company has no comment on the lawsuit, said Amy Buckman, manager of public relations and special events.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media’s state Capitol reporter. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 or [email protected].

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