An American Hustle-like sting operation was shut down by the Pennsylvania Attorney General. The state had conducted an undercover sting operation over a three-year period that snagged elected Philadelphia politicians on tape accepting money and other gifts.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane shut down the sting operation for what she describes as targeting African-Americans. Kane blasted the investigation, which began in 2010, when current Governor Tom Corbett was the attorney general overseeing the investigation. She described the investigation as tainted by racism, and says the sting operation was poorly conceived and badly managed. She will not, however, pursue criminal charges in the investigation.
The state made a deal with a lobbyist, who had recently been arrested in a $430,000 fraud case, to become a confidential informant and wear a wire. The confidential informant would then attempt to bribe and entrap local Philadelphia politicians.
Sources within the investigation have revealed that four state lawmakers, including one who was a former traffic court judge, were caught on tape accepting cash bribes and, in one case, a $2,000 Tiffany bracelet. The total amount of bribes paid to the state legislators ranged from $1,500 to $7,650.
Sources also indicate that the state prosecutor’s office collected over 400 hours of audio and videotapes that establish city lawmakers accepting bribes. The bribes were payments in exchange for favorable votes or contracts with the city. The sources reveal that other politicians, including Republicans, were targeted by the sting operation, but it appears only Democrats had accepted the bribes. Prosecutors were enraged by the suggestion from State Attorney Kane that race played a role in the investigation. All four state representatives were African-American and are members of the Pennsylvania Legislative black caucus.
Kane stands by her decision to shut down the American Hustle-like sting operation. She states the investigation unraveled long before she took office. She was especially critical of sources within the prosecutor’s office who leaked the information about the sting operation, referring to these leakers as “cowardly.”
Philadelphia is no stranger to sting operations. In 1978, the FBI initiated a sting operation called ABSCAM. The FBI employed a convicted felon and con artist to help plan and conduct the operation, with FBI agents posing as Middle Eastern sheikhs. They solicited bribes from a number of politicians, including two Philadelphia congressmen and three members of the Philadelphia City Council. The movie American Hustle is loosely based on the ABSCAM sting operation.
Prosecutors never advised the four state legislators that they were the subject of a criminal investigation. Nor were they told they were the target of an undercover sting operation. The confidential undercover informant that wore a wire and paid the brides that ultimately resulted in this American Hustle-like sting operation being shut down is not likely to be prosecuted for his original $430,000 fraud case. The case against the undercover informant has now been crippled by the original prosecutors in this case, according to State Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane.
By John J. Poltonowicz