There's a story brewing in Pennsylvania that isn't getting much attention. Locally a few news outlets are mentioning it, but its pretty well ignored nationwide. Here's what happened, according to Angela Couloumbis and Craig R. McCoy at the Philadelphia Inquirer:
The Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office ran an undercover sting operation over three years that captured leading Philadelphia Democrats, including four members of the city's state House delegation, on tape accepting money, The Inquirer has learned.
Yet no one was charged with a crime.
Prosecutors began the sting in 2010 when Republican Tom Corbett was attorney general. After Democrat Kathleen G. Kane took office in 2013, she shut it down.
In fact, Attorney General Kane has killed eight different cases - all against Democrats - privately under sealed orders. What kind of case did they have?
Before Kane ended the investigation, sources familiar with the inquiry said, prosecutors amassed 400 hours of audio and videotape that documented at least four city Democrats taking payments in cash or money orders, and in one case a $2,000 Tiffany bracelet.
Typically, the payments made at any one time were relatively modest - ranging from $500 to $2,000 - but most of those involved accepted multiple payments, people familiar with the investigation said. In some cases, the payments were offered in exchange for votes or contracts, they said.
Sources with knowledge of the sting said the investigation made financial pitches to both Republicans and Democrats, but only Democrats accepted the payments.
The investigation's undercover operative was a little-known lobbyist, Tyron B. Ali, 40, who agreed to wear a wire and tape the officials to win favorable treatment after his arrest in a $430,000 fraud case, the newspaper has learned.
Tyrone says that he approached both parties, with members of all ethnic backgrounds, and only the Democrats were interested. In fact, he says that after a few days he didn't even have to reach out to politicians, that they started calling him. The Attorney General admits that the case was valid, and that these politicians committed crimes of corruption and bribery. But she claims the stings were poorly handled, and that Ali's credibility was too damaged for the case to go to court.
See, Mr Ali had been nailed for corruption himself, and he was facing charges in a $430,000 state fraud and theft case. To deal with this, he agreed to wear a wire and see if he couldn't get politicians he'd been working with to incriminate themselves on tape. Its a classic case of the legal system using a little fish to catch big fish, and its used all the time, even with known criminals. Its how many big time criminals, mobsters, and crooked politicians have been nailed in the past.
This time, the Attorney General, upon taking office, decided it was sufficient cause to throw out the case against members of her political party. Then, when questioned on it, claimed the charges were "racist" "poorly conceived," and "targeted African Americans." She consulted a fellow District Attorney, who declared the case "almost unprosecutable," but then later admitted that he had not read the full case file, listen to the tapes, read the transcripts, or talk to Ali.
It was only later that she started to claim the investigation was tainted by this man's criminal past. She now says that over 2000 charges against Ali were dropped in exchange for the wire, which is pretty excessive, but that doesn't somehow make the cases against these politicians something that ought to be dropped or make the case weak. And, as former federal and Philadelphia City Prosecutor L. George Parry, said, "I've yet to meet an informant that didn't have lousy credibility. That's one of the defining attributes of being an informant. That's why you wire them, to see if what they say is true."
As the Inquirer later noted in an editorial, this looks a lot more like Attorney General Kane dropped the case because it hurts the Democrat political machine in Philadelphia than anything else. And given that now Kane is threatening the newspaper with lawsuits for reporting on this case, its hard to avoid that sense.
Outrageous, you say, incredible? Actually these days it seems all too common. Its been happening a while now, but the first big example I recall recently was the Duke Lacrosse team case. The Attorney General in North Carolina pushed the case against the Lacrosse team without any reasonable evidence, in the face of all sorts of contradictory evidence, and even when the case was falling apart was vicious in persecuting the team. Why? Because they're rich white boys and she was a poor black girl. Because it was an elitist group of frat boys he wanted to punish, because he thought it would help him get reelected (it was an election year) to pick on the white guys, and most of all because the left jumped on this case as an example of white male privilege and rape and abuse of a black woman.
More and more it seems that prosecutors are abusing and misusing their office and position, not out of some "old boys network" or money changing hands, but out of political perspective. In the past, there were two major influences restraining this from happening.
The first was the news media, who loved little guy stories and abuse of power stories, no matter who it hurt, and would aggressively pursue them. Even if the paper was reluctant to hurt one political group or another, there was usually at least one other newspaper in town with a different perspective which would.
The second was a sense of honor and integrity, virtue, which held people to a sense of responsibility and wrong even when not under direct supervision which would help restrain them from taking action. This was tenuous in many cases, and sometimes nonexistent, but it was at least more of a societal norm in the past than today.
Now, there's basically nothing holding prosecutors back from abusing their power and thus citizens. They can do so in a lot of ways, as Professor Reynolds (of Instapundit fame) writes in a recent USA Today piece:
Here's how things all-too-often work today: Law enforcement decides that a person is suspicious (or, possibly, just a political enemy). Upon investigation into every aspect of his/her life, they find possible violations of the law, often involving obscure, technical statutes that no one really knows. They then file a "kitchen-sink" indictment involving dozens, or even hundreds of charges, which the grand jury rubber stamps. The accused then must choose between a plea bargain, or the risk of a trial in which a jury might convict on one or two felony counts simply on a "where there's smoke there must be fire" theory even if the evidence seems less than compelling.Prosecutorial discretion is what its called when a DA decides whether or not to go after a case or how to do it. And they can decide to avoid cases where its politically damaging with no consequences now, provided they're on the left side of the political fence. And the way the system works,
there's basically no due process at the stage when prosecutors decide to bring charges. Prosecutors who are out to "get" people have a free hand; prosecutors who want to give favored groups or individuals a pass have a free hand, too.Even the federal government doesn't know how many federal laws there are, and you can't get through a day without violating at least one of them because the level of law and regulation has gotten so dense, you can't avoid it. Which means if a prosecutor really wants to nail you, they can. Its not a case of trying to avoid jail by living right, its a case of not being able to live right.
In theory, judges are supposed to be some kind of authority to control this abuse of power and restrain courts from being used for political leverage and intimidation. But judges display an astounding reluctance to reject anything brought to them, no matter how idiotic or outrageous. Partly this is due to the fact that most were lawyers at some point and are sympathetic to the system. Part of this is because judges hate to be overruled or overturned more than anything (its a blow to their ego and hurts their potential advancement to higher courts). And part of it is due to the fact that, well, more than a few judges seem to agree to the use of power to silence or punish political enemies.
The result is that a system designed to protect people from those in power is working almost the opposite, to protect those in power from their citizens and consequences of their actions.