A grand jury convened by Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams has indicted two Democratic state legislators for accepting bribes in exchange for voting against a voter ID bill, among other legislative actions.
The grand jury findings also represent a withering rejection of the unjustifiable behavior of Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who shut down the three-year investigation that caught state Democratic legislators on video and audio tapes taking bribes. Williams stepped in and successfully prosecuted the case.
As the grand jury reported, it had 26 recordings featuring Rep. Ronald G. Waters, who accepted nine cash payments from a confidential informant totaling $8,750. The grand jury had 24 recordings of Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown accepting five cash payments totaling $4,000. Waters agreed to vote against Pennsylvania House Bill 934, a voter ID bill, in exchange for $2,000. Brown also agreed to vote against House Bill 934 for the same amount.
Brown was so eager to vote the way she had been paid by the informant that she offered to “get up and speak” on the floor of the Pennsylvania House in opposition to the bill. Both “representatives testified before this Grand Jury and admitted their criminal conduct.”
Waters, who currently serves as the Secretary for the House Democratic Caucus, was “ecstatic” about receiving the cash bribes and told the CI “I’m going to tell you the f*****g truth. You have money, then you can get something done.” Brown told the grand jury she took the money because of financial pressures, including being told that if she didn’t raise $100,000 for her next election, “the Democratic Party would run someone against her in a primary.”
Because Waters, Brown and other legislators involved in the bribery scheme are black, Democratic Attorney General Kathleen Kane shut down the investigation in March. She claimed that the investigation was “poorly conceived, badly managed and tainted by racism…[and] had targeted African-Americans.” Williams, who also is black, was particularly incensed by this claim, saying that he was “disgusted that the attorney general would bring racism into this case. It’s like pouring gasoline on a fire for no reason, no reason at all.”
The Philadelphia grand jury, which was made up of a cross-section of Philadelphia citizens, actually reviewed those allegations, saying its members were “particularly sensitive to the explosive charge that the defendants were racially targeted.” But the grand jury found “the claims of racism in this instance were simply false.” An extensive review of the evidence showed “that there had never been any factual basis for the charge of racism.” In fact, it was the guilty bribe-takers who were responsible for the targeting because they were the ones telling the CI “who they thought would play ball with him and by introducing him to them. The informant, in effect, was passed from one public official to another.”
The grand jury also reviewed a “comprehensive” report prepared by Kane’s office that supposedly confirmed her racism claims. The grand jury complained that the comprehensive report had never been shared with the public. Also, “on repeated occasions, the Grand Jury was assured that it had received all relevant materials [of this report], only to receive significant additional materials upon judicial intervention. Each new document dump, of course, indicated that the prior representations [by the AG’s office] had been false.”
In a scathing indictment of Kane’s claims, the grand jury found that it was her “review, rather than the underlying investigation, that appeared flawed.” In fact, Kane:
[F]ailed to examine a wealth of internal documents – documents created by and in the possession of the OAG – that contradicted the report’s assumption. The review also failed to include interviews of agents assigned to the investigation or others whose knowledge would have refuted the report’s preferred conclusion.
In other words, Kane’s justification for ending the investigation was false, and her office then crafted a severely flawed report designed to support her claims that ignored the actual evidence in the case.
As the grand jury concluded, the evidence of bribery was “unusually damning, consisting as it does not only of eyewitness accounts, but of hours of tape recordings, and of detailed admissions by the subjects of the investigation themselves.”
In light of those findings, it is difficult to come up with any reason for Kane’s actions other than a political one. Thankfully, Williams was not deterred from seeking indictments for crimes that strike at the very heart of the legislative process. Kane may not be interested in trying to clean up state politics, but Williams certainly is.