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2 Philadelphia Democrats Plead Guilty in Sting Case

A current member and former member of the state House of Representatives pleaded guilty Monday to corruption charges, bringing to three the number of Philadelphia Democrats convicted in the resurrected "sting" case.

By Angela Couloumbis and Craig R. McCoy

A current member and former member of the state House of Representatives pleaded guilty Monday to corruption charges, bringing to three the number of Philadelphia Democrats convicted in the resurrected "sting" case.

State Rep. Ronald Waters, 65, and former Rep. Harold James, 72, accepted deals that spared them prison and meant they could keep their government pensions.

Waters pleaded guilty to nine counts of conflict of interest and was sentenced to to 23 months probation ordered to pay $8,750 in restitution to the state and $5,000 to the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office for the cost of prosecution. He also will resign his seat.

"I got caught up and I don't know where my mind was," Waters told the court.

James pleaded guilty to one count of conflict of interest. He was sentenced to 12 months probation and was ordered to pay $750 in restitution and $2,000 for the cost of prosecution.

Another defendant, Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown, in the meantime declared her intention to take her case to trial.

Of six Democratic politicians charged so far in the sting case, Waters accepted the most money from the sting's undercover operative: $8,750 in nine payments in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

After pocketing one payment of $1,000, Waters was captured on tape saying, "Happy birthday to Ron Waters."

James received two money orders worth a total of $750 in campaign contributions. Unlike Waters, he reported the money on his campaign-finance reports.

But prosecutors said James' corrupt intent was demonstrated when he reached out to the informant later and asked how he could help him while in office.

As The Inquirer first reported last year, Kane, a Democrat, secretly ended the sting operation in 2013 without bringing any criminal charges -- and without notifying the state Ethics Commission that lawmakers had been taped accepting cash.

She said the investigation was marred by a lack of a clear quid pro quo for the payments. She also said she had evidence that the undercover operative, Tyron Ali, had been ordered to focus only on African American targets.

The prosecutors who launched the sting before Kane took office vehemently disputed that. So has Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, who adopted the probe after Kane shut it down, and ended up bringing the six cases.

Waters and James join the first person charged in the sting case -- Thomasine Tynes, 72, a former Traffic Court judge -- in entering guilty pleas.

Tyne, who accepted a $2,000 Tiffany bracelet from Ali, was given a 23-month sentence, but it was made concurrent with her two-year federal prison term in an unrelated ticket-fixing case.

Besides Brown, two other members of the Philadelphia delegation to the state House charged in the case are still awaiting trial: Michelle Brownlee and Louise Williams Bishop.

Prosecutors say Brown, 48, accepted the second most after Waters: $4,000, in five payments.

They charged Brownlee, 59, with accepting $2,000 wrapped in a napkin during a walk in Harrisburg.

Though Brown and Brownlee have yet to enter pleas, District Williams Williams has said they have admitted wrongdoing in testimony before a grand jury.

So far, the only defendant to mount a defense appears to be Bishop, 81.

Prosecutors say Ali gave Bishop a total of $1,500 during three meetings.

During the last exchange of cash, they say, Bishop was taped replying: "That's a great help. That's a biggie."

Her attorney, A. Charles Peruto Jr., has called six current or former members of the Attorney General's office to testify Friday at a court hearing in Harrisburg for Bishop. Peruto said last week that he hoped to prove Kane's correct in saying racial prejudice fatally marred the case.

First elected to his legislative seat 15 years ago, Waters has been a quiet backbencher in Harrisburg. Despite the news of the sting, he breezed to his ninth term in November. He had no opponent in either the primary or the general election.

James, a former Philadelphia police officer, presented a South Philadelphia legislative district for almost two decades until 2008. He served a last six months in the seat in 2012 -- the year he accepted the money from the informant -- filling out an unexpired term.

He was once president of the Guardian Civic League, an organization for the African American Philadelphia police officers.

(c)2015 The Philadelphia Inquirer

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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