Pennsylvania Grand Jury Recommends Charging Attorney General with Perjury and Other Crimes

by | January 21, 2015

By Angela Couloumbis and Craig R. McCoy

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane could face charges of perjury and other crimes for allegedly leaking confidential information to a Philadelphia newspaper in a bid to embarrass her enemies, according to court documents unsealed Wednesday.

A statewide grand jury has recommended that Kane, the state's top law enforcement officer, be charged with perjury, false swearing, official oppression and obstruction for what a special prosecutor found was a deliberate violation of grand jury secrecy rules in a 2009 investigation run by her Republican predecessors.

The panel's findings are only advisory. Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman must decide whether to file charges.

Kane, the first woman and first Democrat elected to the office, has said repeatedly that while she disclosed information to The Philadelphia Daily News about a 2009 case that examined the financial dealings of a Philadelphia civil rights leader, she did not break any rules in doing so.

Her lawyer and spokesman, Lanny J. Davis, issued a statement Wednesday morning calling the recommended charges against Kane "utterly false, even absurd."

He added: "You can't be guilty of obstruction or 'oppression' if you are 100 percent truthful and have nothing to hide."

The charges, first reported by The Inquirer earlier this month, became public as part of a major unsealing of documents related to the leak investigation. While the grand jury's full presentment was not part of records that became public, Wednesday's unsealing gives details of its contents, and includes criticism of Kane by the judge overseeing the leak investigation.

Montgomery County Judge William Carpenter oversaw the statewide grand jury seated in Montgomery.

Davis, Kane's lawyer and spokesman, has said previously that he believes Kane is being "railroaded" by a group of "angry" and "bitter" Republican men intent on destroying her reputation and her career.

Some of those men, who he said he could not name because of a broad protective order in the case, are upset with Kane because she questioned the way they handled past cases and exposed their exchange of pornographic emails on state time and state computers.

Last fall, Kane released the names of eight officials, almost all former top prosecutors and agents who had worked for her predecessors, as having traded the pornographic messages between 2008 and 2012. Of the eight, five lost their jobs after the disclosure.

Kane's allies believe the leak investigation was a form of payback. The Inquirer has reported that former Supreme Court chief justice Ronald D. Castille authorized a Montgomery County judge to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate how information about a 2009 case involving onetime Philadelphia NAACP chief J. Whyatt Mondesire ended up in the Daily News.

The newspaper reported last June that Kane had launched a review of how the Mondesire case was handled, and was seeking to find out why charges were not filed.

The case was overseen by Frank G. Fina, a top prosecutor in the attorney general's office who left after Kane took office in 2013.

The Daily News story suggested that Kane's office was seeking to determine whether the case had been bungled by Fina and others.

Kane and Fina have been locked in a bitter dispute for months over how certain cases were handled. The dispute flared after The Inquirer disclosed early last year that Kane had aborted a long-running sting investigation launched by Fina that had captured five Philadelphia Democratic elected officials on tape accepting money.

Kane secretly shut down the investigation in 2013, after taking office, without bringing any criminal charges. That investigation has since been resurrected by Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, who has made three arrests in the case. His investigation is continuing.

In its story about Mondesire, the Daily News cited two documents: a 2009 memo detailing alleged financial wrongdoing involving Mondesire; and a transcript of one of the case agents being questioned about the investigation by one of Kane's top deputies last year.

Through her lawyers, Kane has said that while she authorized the disclosure of the 2014 transcript, she had no idea how the 2009 memo ended up being released. Her allies have suggested that an overzealous staffer may have mistakenly released that information.

Additionally, her lawyers have argued that Kane was a stay-at-home mother in 2009, when the Mondesire case was unfolding. She did not take a grand jury secrecy oath in the case, therefore not subject to secrecy rules involving the matter.

(c)2015 The Philadelphia Inquirer