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Grand jury finding stuns publisher, leak subject of Pennsylvania AG Kane

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J. Whyatt Mondesire, former president of the Pennsylvania NAACP

HARRISBURG — J. Whyatt Mondesire read the unsealed grand jury presentment with disbelief.

It details the grand jury’s conclusion that Attorney General Kathleen Kane leaked secrets from a 2009 investigation of Mondesire to the Philadelphia Daily News through a political consultant.

Mondesire wasn’t charged with a crime. Kane made the secrets public, the grand jury concluded, to try to embarrass former prosecutors who criticized her handling of cases she inherited and didn’t prosecute.

“It is quite stunning to see the attorney general was completely oblivious to what impact her leak would have,” Mondesire, 66, told the Tribune-Review on Tuesday, a day after a judge unsealed the Norristown grand jury’s report.

Kane denies leaking confidential information or breaking any laws.

Her spokesman Chuck Ardo said it was not her intention to embarrass Mondesire.

“If an apology were due Mr. Mondesire, I would apologize on her behalf,” Ardo said.

Mondesire — a former reporter and city editor with the Philadelphia Inquirer who publishes the Philadelphia Sun, a weekly black newspaper — said “the Daily News was equally complicit” for publishing the June 2014 story that identified Mondesire as the subject of a grand jury investigation.

The story said Mondesire’s employee and her daughter pleaded guilty in 2010 to stealing nearly $220,000 in state grant money for a job-training program.

“We’re just not going to say anything,” said Gar Joseph, an assistant managing editor of the Daily News. Reporter Chris Brennan was among those who testified.

Mondesire told the grand jury he was “crushed and dumbfounded” by the story. He “felt like a real jerk,” he testified and that public opinion of him changed.

He plans to file a lawsuit.

“There’s never been any doubt a lawsuit will be filed, whenever the legal drama plays out,” said Mondesire, the former head of the Philadelphia NAACP.

The grand jury recommended charging Kane with crimes, including perjury, obstruction of justice, false swearing and official oppression, finding she knowingly leaking information that infringed on Mondesire’s rights.

He’s waiting to see whether Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman prosecutes Kane.

Among numerous attorney general staffers who testified, seven current and former staffers are named in the grand jury report — including former Chief Deputy James Barker, who headed criminal appeals and the grand jury unit until Kane fired him two weeks ago.

Ferman will decide whether to charge Kane with contempt of court in connection with Barker’s firing. The grand jury’s supervising judge, William Carpenter, said Barker was under a court order meant to protect him against workplace retaliation.

Kane has said his firing wasn’t retaliatory.

Ardo could not say whether taxpayers paid the legal costs for any staffers who testified before the grand jury. A “significant” share of staffers did not have attorneys when they testified, he said. Clerical employees, for example, didn’t take lawyers with them and “a couple of folks” paid for attorneys themselves, he said.

“I am told that some of the information, as to costs, is protected by grand jury secrecy,” Ardo said. The grand jury last met in January.

The case was one of 142 cases the 35th Grand Jury reviewed since 2012, Ardo said. The grand jury cost $442,654 overall, he said.

“Unfortunately, we do not capture cost at the case level, just at the overall 35th Grand Jury level,” he said.

Kane paid for her private attorneys when she testified in November, Ardo said.

By comparison, taxpayers paid $12.5 million for outside legal counsel for legislative staffers during the corruption investigations of 2008-11, the Trib estimated. Once a government employee is charged with a crime, his or her legal costs no longer can be charged to taxpayers.

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

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