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Kathleen Kane's enforcer

HARRISBURG

Paranoia runs deep at the top levels of the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office, starting in the front office. And it's become increasingly clear why AG Kathleen Kane chose Jonathan Duecker, the head of the narcotics unit, to become her “acting” chief of staff though he still carries a badge: Duecker, whom Kane promoted in April despite two outstanding sexual harassment complaints, is “The Enforcer.”

Any perceived disloyalty against Kane is tracked down by Duecker, whose background is counterintelligence. Mole hunts are launched, sources say, as if they are conducted by Cold War espionage agents. To blame the human carnage of firings on Duecker would be wrong; he was promoted because of his unwavering loyalty to Kane. Ultimately, she is signing off on or initiating the firings and she was doing it long before he took over.

Last week, Kane fired George Moore, an official who worked in Human Resources. Moore recommended to Kane that Duecker be fired for the two sexual harassment complaints. That occurred after Duecker was promoted. Several days before his promotion, the agency's internal affairs unit sent Kane the allegations. I don't know whether Duecker did what's alleged. But why would he be promoted without resolving the matter?

Morale is in the tank as a criminal investigation of Kane by the Montgomery County district attorney intensifies. A second round of search warrants was served on the AG's offices recently by DA Risa Ferman. She is deciding whether Kane should be charged with crimes for allegedly leaking grand jury material, perjuring herself before a grand jury and trying to cover it up. A statewide grand jury recommended she be charged. The next step is up to Ferman, a Republican running for judge. A statewide grand jury judge referred the case to her.

Kane's office clearly is in disarray, even a former Kane supporter says. It's become a resume mill for departing staffers. Firings are so commonplace they are hard to track.

A long line of once-loyal employees has been ousted. Moore, as were others, was escorted to the door by armed agents.

Duecker, who drives a Mercedes-Benz seized from drug dealers as his state car, is both chief of staff and an agent. That baffles some insiders on why he'd have authority over prosecutors. Kane's spokesman Chuck Ardo told me she wanted it this way.

If you didn't know that countless employees still are doing stellar work, you'd wonder how the office is functioning at all. But how much time is spent on Kane loyalty tests and internal investigations rather than important criminal and civil cases?

Why does Kane think she can fire staffers, like James Barker, who were grand jury witnesses and under protective order from the court? What other public officials in Pennsylvania could survive promoting a guy accused of sexual harassment? When will it end?

Brad Bumsted is the Trib's state Capitol reporter (717-787-1405 or [email protected]).


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