Once a Rising Star, Pennsylvania AG Kathleen Kane Convicted and Pushed to Resign

by | August 17, 2016

By Angela Couloumbis and Craig R. McCoy

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who was convicted Monday of perjury and other crimes, will resign Wednesday, her once-promising career in state politics felled by a fixation on seeking revenge against enemies that led her to break the law.

In a statement announcing her intention to step down, Kane, 50, the state's first woman and first Democrat elected to the office, said only: "I have been honored to serve the people of Pennsylvania and I wish them health and safety in all their days."

Her decision to resign capped a spectacular fall from grace for an attorney general once touted as a rising star in Democratic politics. Just months after taking office in 2013 after a landslide victory, Kane was being mentioned as a possible candidate for U.S. Senate and the governor's office.

But on Monday, a jury found Kane guilty of two counts of perjury and seven misdemeanor counts of abusing the powers of her office.

Prosecutors convinced jurors that Kane orchestrated an illegal leak of secret grand jury documents to plant a newspaper story critical of a former state prosecutor, Frank Fina, whom she considered her nemesis. Kane then lied about her actions under oath, the jury found.

In reaction to the verdict, Fina praised the work of Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele and Michelle Henry, the two members of the prosecution team. He also lauded Montgomery County Judge William R. Carpenter and Thomas Carluccio, the special prosecutor appointed by Carpenter, saying they were the first with the "the courage to root out this conduct."

Her sentencing has been scheduled for Oct. 24 in Norristown. Prosecutors would not say what they might recommend as a punishment.

While state statutes would permit Montgomery County Judge Wendy Demchick-Alloy to send Kane to prison for up to 28 years, sentencing guidelines for someone with no prior arrest call for a less severe prison term of two years or less.

Under the state Constitution, Kane would have been required to resign on the day of her sentencing. But the Republican-controlled Legislature made it clear after the verdict Monday night that if she did not step down before then, they would take steps to remove her from office.

Kane announced earlier this year that she would not seek another four-year term once her current one ends in January.

In a statement, Gov. Tom Wolf, who for months has urged Kane to leave office, said: "What has transpired with Attorney General Kane is unfortunate. Her decision to resign is the right one, and will allow the people of Pennsylvania to finally move on from this situation."

While a spokesman for Wolf would not say whether the governor would appoint an acting attorney general, it appeared likely that he would. Wolf signaled that in a statement Tuesday in which he said he would work with the state Senate "regarding any potential appointment of an attorney general."

Officials at the attorney general's office said that once Kane's resignation takes effect Wednesday, Bruce L. Castor, Jr., her second-in-command, will become acting attorney general. Castor, a Republican, is the former district attorney in Montgomery County and a former Montgomery County commissioner.

Kane hired him earlier this year as her office's solicitor general, giving him broad powers. She later promoted him to first deputy attorney general.

At a news conference in the attorney general's office shortly after Kane announced her resignation Tuesday, Castor said he would make it a priority to restore public trust in the office and boost morale among prosecutors and agents weary of Kane's tumultuous tenure.

As Kane's legal troubles unfolded over the last two years, her office became awash in fear and mistrust, and more than a half dozen current or former employees sued her for retaliation or discrimination.

Kane grew increasingly isolated, surrounding herself with a tight-knit and fiercely loyal group of advisers that included her onetime driver and a chief of staff who was accused of sexually harassing women in the office.

Kane's troubles began in March 2014, when the Philadelphia Inquirer broke the news that she had shut down an undercover sting investigation that had caught Democratic elected officials from Philadelphia on tape accepting money, gifts and, in one case, jewelry from an undercover operative.

Kane, the jury found, blamed Fina for planting the story and plotted to even the score by leaking secret grand jury information to the Philadelphia Daily News about an old investigation into the finances of J. Whyatt Mondesire, the longtime leader of the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP.

Fina led that inquiry when he was a top prosecutor in the attorney general's office under Kane's Republican predecessors, and the story questioned whether he had vigorously pursued the investigation. Mondesire was never charged.

Kane has accused Fina and others of "corruptly" manufacturing the leak investigation, saying they did so because they wanted to stop her from exposing that they and dozens of other former or current prosecutors and agents had for years swapped pornographic and otherwise offensive emails on government computers.

The pornographic email scandal led multiple high-ranking state officials, including two Supreme Court justices, to resign. Kane's critics have said her only motive in exposing the messages was to retaliate against her enemies.

After Kane was criminally charged last summer, the state Supreme Court temporarily suspended her law license.

Because of her conviction, Kane now faces disbarment _ although she can seek to have her law license reinstated after five years.

It was not immediately clear what might happen to her government pension. Under state law, perjury is a crime that triggers a loss of benefits.

When Kane turns 60 in a decade, she is to receive a pension from Lackawanna County, where she worked for a dozen years as an assistant district attorney.

As attorney general, Kane was in the state pension system too briefly to qualify for benefits, but she will be able to withdraw the $55,000 she invested in during her 3 { years as attorney general, state officials said.

(c)2016 The Philadelphia Inquirer