In an unexpected twist, the tentacles of Pennsylvania’s “porngate” scandal have now reached a high-profile homicide case in Philadelphia.
A defense motion filed Wednesday alleges that embroiled prosecutor Frank Fina racially targeted convicted demolition contractor Griffin Campbell and excavator operator Sean Benschop, the two African-American men charged in connection with the June 2013 building collapse at 22nd and Market streets that killed six people and injured 13 more.
William Hobson, Campbell’s lawyer, said Fina supervised the grand jury investigation into the collapse that found Campbell and Benschop criminally culpable, but not the white decision-makers above them.
Hobson, who has called Campbell and Benschop scapegoats since the collapse, said that’s particularly problematic. Fina is one of three prosecutors now working for the Philadelphia district attorney’s office who exchanged sexually explicit and racially offensive emails while working for the state attorney general’s office.
A Dauphin County judge has ordered Fina to testify during the bribery case against state Rep. Louise Bishop to determine if race played a role in a pay-to-play sting that led to the arrest of six Democratic officials – all African-Americans. Fina led that investigation during his time at the state attorney general’s office.
“The entire grand jury process is tainted,” said Hobson. “There’s a clear pattern of selective, racial prosecution in this case.”
Hobson’s motion requests that Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Glenn Bronson acquit Campbell of all charges or give him a new trial. It also requests that Bronson postpone sentencing, scheduled for Jan. 8.
In October, a Philadelphia jury found Campbell guilty of involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault and other offenses. Benschop pleaded guilty to the same charges over the summer.
Architect Plato Marinakos was granted immunity for testifying as part of the grand jury investigation and during Campbell’s trial. Richard Basciano, the building’s owner, was never criminally charged. Both are white.
“Of all the multiple players, of all the people with potential criminal responsibility, two African-Americans with extremely limited financial resources are the only two people indicted,” Hobson said.
Cameron Kline, spokesman for Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, said the office is reviewing the motion and cannot comment further.
But Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Selber, who prosecuted Campbell’s case, has rejected Hobson’s argument that Campbell and Benschop are scapegoats.
“These two men were charged based on the evidence and the case will be litigated based on the evidence on its merits, not based on social status or politics,” said Selber in 2013.
Kline said grand jury investigations are secret, barring him from disclosing what role Fina played.