By Paul Kurtz
HARRISBURG, Pa. (CBS) — Three more Pennsylvania state lawmakers from Philadelphia have been charged in a political corruption investigation that was dropped by the state attorney general’s office but picked up by the Philadelphia DA.
Today, at a press conference, Philadelphia district attorney Seth Williams says state representatives Michelle Brownlee and Louise Williams Bishop and former represenative Harold James are accused of taking cash payments from a lobbyist working undercover for investigators. They are charged with conspiracy, bribery, and other crimes.
Bishop allegedly met many times with the lobbyist to work on a scheme to stack the state House Liquor Control committee, with the ultimate goal of privatization.
“At her request, he gave her a list of talking points she could memorize in support of privatization,” Williams says.
All three defendants surrendered in Harrisburg this morning. Williams says Brownlee and James have accepted responsibility for their actions. The attorney for James declined to comment on the case.
This brings to six the number of Democrats charged in the corruption probe that state attorney general Kathleen Kane refused to prosecute and Williams says he reluctantly picked up.
“She basically was saying I was harboring racists in my office,” Williams recalls, “so I had to look into it. And that’s how we got to where are are today.” He called Kane “her own worst enemy.”
The three defendants face a preliminary hearing on March 19th.
Democratic representatives Ron Waters and Vanessa Lowery Brown of Philadelphia have also been charged, while ex-Philadelphia Traffic Court judge Thomasine Tynes has pleaded guilty.
Later this afternoon, attorney A. Charles Peruto, who is representing Rep. Bishop, blasted DA Williams for what he called “unethical” conduct in releasing certain information about his client.
“The judge swore us all to secrecy — that is, defense and prosecution — that not one word that is said before that grand jury is to be leaked to the press,” Peruto told KYW Newsradio. “Seth Williams divulged to the press that my client exercised her Fifth Amendment privilege and refused to answer questions.”
Peruto says he will ask the judge to dismiss the charges against Bishop because of Williams’ conduct. He also questioned why the charges were filed in Harrisburg while the judge, grand jury, and prosecutor are all here in Philadelphia.
Kane’s office responding to a CBS 3 inquiry, released a statement that reads, “prosecutors exercise discretion all the time on the merit of pursuing case. Attorney General Kane supports the efforts of all District Attorneys to obtain equal justice under the law.”