Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane was convicted Monday of perjury, obstruction and other crimes after squandering her once-bright political future on an illegal vendetta against an enemy.
Four years after Kane’s election in a landslide as the first Democrat and first woman elected attorney general, a jury of six men and six women found her guilty of all charges: two counts of perjury and 10 misdemeanor counts of abusing the powers of her office.
Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele persuaded the jurors that Kane orchestrated the illegal leak of secret grand jury documents to plant a June 2014 story critical of her nemesis, former state prosecutor Frank Fina. Kane then lied about her actions under oath, the jury found.
Kane, 50, who rose from a hard-scrabble upbringing in Scranton to win a statewide post in her first bid for office, showed little emotion as the verdict was read. Her twin sister Ellen Granahan was with her in court.
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The jury deliberated for 4 1/2 hours before pronouncing Kane’s guilt.
Montgomery County Judge Wendy Demchick-Alloy ordered the attorney general to surrender her passport by noon Tuesday. The judge barred Kane from retaliating against witnesses in the case and said if she did so, she would be immediately jailed.
Kane sought revenge on Fina because she believed he was the source for a March 2014 Philadelphia Inquirer story reporting that she had secretly shut down an undercover sting operation that had caught Philadelphia officials on tape accepting cash. Fina, for many years the head of corruption cases for the attorney general’s office, launched the sting before Kane took office.
Michelle Henry, who joined Steele in presenting the prosecution case, painted Kane as heedless of the law as she carried out her crimes.
“She knew it was wrong, she knew it was against the law, and she didn’t care,” Henry said. “She did it for revenge. And after that happened, she covered it up with lies.”
As Kane fought with Fina, their war kept spreading to new fronts. In a feud that riveted the state’s legal and political communities, Kane and Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams – both Democrats and the state’s two top law enforcement officials – became enemies.
Williams, who hired Fina as a city prosecutor after he left the state payroll, ended up resurrecting the sting investigation. At last count, five defendants – four former state legislators and a former president judge of Philadelphia Traffic Court – had pleaded guilty or no-contest to corruption charges.
Williams accused Kane of erroneously suggesting that race played a role in the selection of targets in the investigation.
The accused, Williams said, “took money not because they were targeted, or tricked, or because of their race. They took it because they wanted the money.”
Kane, in scrutinizing Fina’s handling of a past case, found a powerful weapon. While examining Fina’s work investigating sex offender Jerry Sandusky, she learned that Fina, among many others in her agency and elsewhere in government, had been swapping pornographic emails on state computers for years.
She denounced the offensive emails and complained that her public stand against them had led to her arrest. This fueled a burgeoning scandal that eventually cost several top officials their jobs, including two justices of the state Supreme Court.
Despite a relatively thin resume – a dozen years as an assistant district attorney in the Scranton area – Kane campaigned ably in 2012, selling herself as a newcomer without ties to the establishment. She picked up support by criticizing the investigation of Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant football coach, a stance that paid off with strong support from voters in areas close to the university.
In her first year in office, Kane won media attention for her stands in favor of a gun control measure and marriage equality. But that was also the year she shut down the sting case, doing so under court seal with no word to the public.
When the Inquirer disclosed her decision, in a story the following year, Kane was livid.
“I will not allow them to discredit me or our office,” Kane wrote in an email on the day the article appeared. “This is war.”
In her public remarks, Kane savaged the sting investigation, called it “half-assed,” poorly planned and managed and far too weak to lead to any convictions. More seriously, she said the cases may have been marred by racial targeting.
But, the jury found, she also orchestrated the leak, dispatching two associates – her second in command Adrian King and political consultant Josh Morrow – to act in relay as couriers to deliver the leaked material to a reporter with the Philadelphia Daily News.
The result was a front page Daily News story quoting a detective as saying Fina failed to aggressively pursue 2009 allegations that J. Whyatt Mondesire, a veteran civil rights leader in Philadelphia and head of the city’s NAACP chapter, had misused state money. (Fina has defended his handling of the case.)
Morrow later became a key prosecution witness, in tandem with King. Morrow told jurors that the point of the leak was to strike back at Fina. In court, Kane’s lawyers blasted both King and Morrow as liars.
Morrow said later that he and Kane plotted together to pin the crime solely on King. He said they hatched the plan at a meeting that took place only after Kane had her security details search Morrow and use a security wand to scan him to make sure he was not wearing a hidden recording device.
“We had conspired to create this story that wasn’t true,” Morrow told the jury. “Kathleen and I came up with a story that she was going to testify to and I was going to testify to.”
From even before the Daily News published its story, Fina, 50, bought back tenaciously. When the Daily News reporter contacted him for comment for the pending story, Fina immediately reported to authorities that the journalist had gained access to secret grand jury material.
This triggered the appointment of a special prosecutor, Norristown lawyer Thomas Carluccio, a six-month grand jury probe led by Carluccio, a three-month investigation by Montgomery County prosecutors and detectives, and, ultimately, Kane’s arrest a year ago charges of perjury, obstruction, official oppression, false swearing and conspiracy.
In defending herself, Kane blamed Fina. She said he had “corruptly manufactured” the charges against her to block her from exposing his troubling emails. But after prosecutors contended that the pornographic emails had no relevance to the criminal case, Demchick-Alloy, who presided over the trial, barred Kane from raising her charge in court.
Still, before the trial, Kane publicly criticized Fina and District Attorney Williams, sparking a major political crisis of Williams’ six years in office. She helped drum up sustained public criticism of the district attorney for his decision to stand by Fina and other former prosecutors on his staff who had been implicated in what inevitably came to be called Porngate in Harrisburg. This summer, Fina, after years as a federal, state and city prosecutor, quit Williams’ staff.
While Kane and Fina battled, the attorney general’s office has been in turmoil. Kane has gone through a sting of spokesmen and top aides. High-profile cases have unraveled, a sullen staff has had to endure multiple investigations, and ex-prosecutors and supervisors have hit her with a blizzard of lawsuits. So far, taxpayers have put out nearly $600,000 to cover expenses settling or fighting those suits.
In the spring, Kane finally bowed to the political realities – a depleted campaign fund, $1.6 million owed from the last race to her husband (whom she is divorcing), and negatives in polling.
The one-time star among Pennsylvania Democrats, the woman who pundits had said was destined for the U.S. Senate or higher office, announced that she would not seek re-election.