By Francis Scarcella
The Daily Item
HARRISBURG — State Attorney General Kathleen Kane is questioning the timing of criticisms against her office by a former Selinsgrove resident under investigation for how he handled allegations against Jerry Sandusky.
Frank Fina, a former chief deputy attorney general who now heads the public-corruption unit in the Philadelphia district attorney’s office, says Kane won’t speak to reporters about her halting an investigation into a number of Philadelphia area politicians who allegedly accepted cash and gifts for favors and influence.
She did Wednesday in an interview in Harrisburg with The Daily Item.
“This case was botched from the start,” Kane said, adding that prosecutors dropped charges weeks before she was sworn into office.
A Philadelphia newspaper two weeks ago reported Kane ended the three-year undercover sting operation that had state Democratic lawmakers on tape accepting money and gifts.
The sting began in 2010 under then-Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett. Fina, the lead prosecutor in the operation, claimed Kane, a Democrat, shut it down after she took office in January 2013.
“The final nail in the coffin was when the charges against the (confidential informant) were dropped,” she said. “More than 2,000 charges went away and it crippled the case.”
The confidential informant, lobbyist Tyron B. Ali, 40, alledgedly agreed to wear a wire and tape the officials to win favorable treatment after his arrest in a $430,000 fraud case.
“When prosecutors dismissed more than 2,000 serious charges of fraud that alleged their informant stole $430,000 meant for poor children and seniors, they crippled their chance of this case succeeding in prosecution,” Kane said.
“They decided to drop those charges 24 days after I was elected and weeks before I was sworn in.”
Kane questioned the timing of the attack against her and her office.
“Why now?” she asked.
“This went through Corbett, (once Acting Attorney General) Bill Ryan and (former Attorney General) Linda Kelly and for the past 14 months he (Fina) could have had the Philadelphia district attorney’s office prosecute this case, but they chose not to as well.”
Part of the problem with the investigation was that it targeted African-American lawmakers and ignored illegal acts by whites, Kane said.
Never had chance
Ali also told federal law enforcement authorities that the focus of the investigation was limited to only members of the General Assembly’s Black Caucus.
Kane never had a chance to exercise her professional judgment with Ali because of the deal he received 24 days before she took office, she said.
Kane provided a chart that showed that of 113 tape-recorded sessions, 108 were with African-Americans, three were with Latinos and two with whites. One of those tapes with a white was only because he was in the room with two blacks, Kane said.
Some of the gifts included payments in cash or money orders, and, in one case, a $2,000 Tiffany bracelet.
After reviewing the way in which the case was handled, Kane said it would have never held up in court and she didn’t want to waste taxpayer dollars on the flaws made by the office before she was elected.
“After an in-depth review of the case, we decided we could not prosecute this,” Kane said.
“It was a highly unusual move to drop the charges against (Ali) and he was a tainted source.”
Criminals off hook
Crimes were committed, she said, and public corruption is something she will continue to attack.
“It makes me sick,” she said.
Fina did not return a call seeking comment, but wrote an op-ed piece in a Harrisburg newspaper.
“My colleagues and I conducted our investigation honestly, ably and with integrity,” he wrote. “I am willing to sit down at the same table with AG Kane, across from Inquirer reporters and other members of the media, where we can each respond to any questions that are posed about the investigation.
“I would only ask that at some point Ms. Kane herself articulate in her own words the reasons why she believes that she can condemn and drop an investigation, and then fail to answer questions about those actions. She should at least respond to reporter’s questions, if not mine.”
Kane questions Fina’s motives, saying she hopes they aren’t related to her office’s investigation into the way he handled the Jerry Sandusky case.
Sandusky, the former Penn State assistant football coach, was convicted of multiple charges of child sexual abuse. Prosecutors moved too slowly on the Sandusky case, Kane said. After her election, by more than 3 million votes, her office began a probe into Fina’s investigation.
That inquiry has been going on for a year, and Kane has said it was taking longer than anticipated.
Kane also had issues with a friend of Fina’s, Senior Judge Barry Feudale, who presided over the Sandusky grand jury.
Feudale, a Democrat, was a Northumberland County judge from 1987 until 1997. He then worked as a “floating” senior judge, assigned by the Supreme Court to hear cases in 63 of the state’s 67 counties.
In May, the Supreme Court removed him from his grand-jury position. The court’s order did not bar him from serving as a judge.
Feudale has overseen grand juries in some of the attorney general’s office’s biggest cases, including the Bonusgate scandal in the Legislature.
An incident in 2013 involving Feudale became well-known in the media after he arrived at the attorney general’s office and displayed a knife.
Feudale said the incident was blown out of proportion but would not go into details when asked in the summer of 2013.