Two Pennsylvania state lawmakers from Philadelphia face bribery charges stemming from a controversial sting operation started by the state attorney general’s office.
At a news conference Tuesday, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said recordings made by an informant posing as a lobbyist clearly captured state Reps. Ron Waters and Vanessa Lowery Brown taking cash and promising favors in return.
Williams described Brown’s reaction when the informant gave her an envelope filled with $2,000 in cash.
“Brown was elated,” Williams said. “‘Ooh, good, good lookin’,’ she said. ‘Ooh-we. Thank you twice.’ Altogether, Rep. Brown took illegal cash five times.”
Brown accepted a total of $4,000 from the informant, the grand jury alleged. Waters took nine payments totalling $8,750, it charged.
The sting operation was disclosed in March by the Philadelphia Inquirer. Williams said when it was clear he was pursuing the matter, Brown and Waters both decided to come clean and speak to the grand jury. He described Waters’ appearance at his news conference.
“In his testimony before the grand jury, he admitted it,” Williams said. “He admitted all of it. He admitted that these were not personal presents. He admitted that he promised to use his office in exchange for the money.”
The fact that Brown and Waters admitted their conduct before the grand jury is a strong indication that both intend to plead guilty. They would forfeit their seats in the legislature upon sentencing.
Williams declined comment on the likelihood of a plea agreement. Neither lawmaker was available for comment.
The sting investigation was abandoned by the office of state Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who said it was poorly conducted and tainted by indications of racially targeting. So far, all of the public officials named as having accepted cash are African-American.
Williams eventually accepted the case files and recordings from Kane and pursued prosecutions. At his news conference Tuesday, he hotly disputed the notion that the investigation was racially motivated in any way.
He said his office had sought any documents or information from the attorney general’s files indicating a racial motivation, and got nothing.
“One, as an African-American, and two, as a law enforcement official, I was disgusted that the attorney general would bring racism into this case,” Williams said. “It’s like pouring gasoline onto a fire, for no reason.”
Kane’s office released a brief statement saying that it had inherited a dormant case which, upon review, had troubling elements. “But,” the statement said, “prosecutors disagree all the time on the merit of pursuing various cases and Attorney General Kane supports the efforts of all district attorneys to obtain equal justice under the law.”