Saturday, August 27, 2016

GateHouse:Another Pennsylvania prosecutor on the hot seat

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse News
August 26, 2016

Pennsylvania’s top law enforcement officer was convicted, resigned and faces a jail sentence. This week, we learn the top prosecutor in the state’s largest jurisdiction is the subject of an expanding FBI probe. Philadelphia’s district attorney, Seth Williams, is on the hot seat.

Williams defeated 14-year incumbent Lynn Abraham in 2009. Abraham had been much maligned for her fierce pursuit of the death penalty, but as a public servant she never ended up on the other side of the law.

Pennsylvania has a dubious history of political corruption. Former Attorney General Kathleen Kane just resigned in disgrace. Former Treasurer Rob McCord resigned under federal indictment in 2015. Another former Treasurer, Barbara Hafer, was recently indicted — not to mention two Supreme Court Justices who recently resigned after being embroiled in the Kane/Porngate scandal.

Now it is Seth Williams’ turn. He has done nothing to endear himself to leaders in his own party.

When Governor Tom Wolf declared a moratorium on the death penalty to complete a study on its operation, Williams filed a King’s Bench action before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court challenging the governor’s constitutional authority to grant reprieves.

The first case the governor chose to exercise his authority was that of Terry Williams, a case that gained national attention regarding his guilt. Seth Williams argued that Governor Wolf’s reprieve was inconsistent with the historical use of the constitutional power.

Then Seth Williams chose to hire former attorney general prosecutor Frank Fina. Fina was a prominent figure in the Kane prosecution. Fina was irked by Kane’s reinvestigation of the Jerry Sandusky child sex scandal, a case he investigated while in the attorney general’s office. Fina is alleged to have leaked embarrassing information about Kane that ultimately led to her self-destruction.

Later when it was revealed that Fina was involved in the distribution of racist and pornographic emails while in the AG’s office, pressure began to mount on Williams to fire Fina, reported The Legal Intelligencer.

Although Williams decided to transfer Fina out of the special investigations unit, Williams was warned that the scandal was likely to continue and could affect some prosecutions being brought by his office.

Williams decided that Fina and two other staffers would get sensitivity training but keep their jobs. Williams said in a statement that Fina, and the others, had regret and remorse. Fina has since left the office. The problems for Williams have taken on more serious tone. This week, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Williams reported receiving $160,050 in gifts from 2010 to 2015. Gifts that were not previously included on his mandatory annual financial interests statements.

Williams failed to report receiving a free $45,000 roof repair on his home from a New Jersey builder, cash gifts of $1,500 and $10,000 from friends, and $20,800 in free airfare and lodging for vacations to Key West, Las Vegas, Virginia, and the Dominican Republic.

Williams also received $10,000 in travel expenses for an Eisenhower Fellowship program in Australia and South Africa, $5,000 from the Ministry of Justice of Thailand to travel there to teach leadership classes, and free trips to several state and national prosecutorial forums, reported the Inquirer.

Also it was revealed this week that a federal probe into the Williams’ political and personal finances has expanded to include a nonprofit he founded.

According to the Inquirer, a foundation, which Williams started in 2011, received a federal subpoena for financial documents. That’s a new phase of an ongoing probe, which for more than a year has been exploring whether Williams misspent political funds on personal expenses.

Williams was defiant in the face of reasonable action on the part of the governor and obstinate when it was revealed that some of his controversial new staff did not have “clean hands.” He now faces even greater challenges to his political survival. Late this week, Bill Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News wrote, “Philadelphia desperately needs a new district attorney.”

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book, “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010,” was recently released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.

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