HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Two more elected officials from Philadelphia were charged Tuesday in connection with an undercover sting that caught them on tape allegedly accepting thousands of dollars from an informant who posed as a lobbyist seeking help for his clients' pet projects.
Pennsylvania state Reps. Ronald Waters and Vanessa Brown, both Democrats, appeared before a grand jury and admitted to taking illegal cash payments, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said at a news conference.
All told, 26 recordings featured Waters, who accepted $8,750 in nine cash payments, the grand jury said in a 29-page presentment. Twenty-four recordings featured Brown, who accepted $4,000 in five payments, it said.
They were charged in Harrisburg with conspiracy, conflict of interest and bribery in a new twist to a case that was launched several years ago by the attorney general's office. The case went dormant in 2012 and ultimately was abandoned by Attorney General Kathleen Kane.
Kane, who took office in 2013, had panned the case as too weak to win convictions in court, but Williams took it over in June, saying Tuesday that the evidence "must see the light of day, and criminal charges are just and fair."
Brown's lawyer, Luther Weaver, declined comment. Waters' lawyer, Fortunato Perri, said he is exploring a plea deal for Waters. Officials with the state House of Representatives said they had no word on whether Waters or Brown planned to resign.
The grand jury presentment quoted recordings of the two lawmakers' various meetings with the informant, who sought their help on various pieces of legislation or business ventures.
"So when are you going to explain to me what you get out of the deal?" Brown is quoted as asking the informant after a February 2011 lunch meeting in Philadelphia. The informant then gave her $500 in cash, the grand jury said.
In another meeting in May 2011, the informant handed her an envelope with $2,000, the grand jury said. "Ooo, good lookin'! Ooo wee! ... Thank you twice!" she is quoted as responding.
In April 2011, Waters and the informant met with a Philadelphia Parking Authority official in a meeting Waters set up to help the informant get a collections contract for a client. Eight days later, the informant attended a birthday party for Waters in suburban Philadelphia and gave him $1,000.
"My man!" Waters is quoted by the grand jury. "Happy birthday to Ron Waters!"
Neither Brown nor Waters disclosed the cash to the state as a gift or a campaign donation. It is legal for lawmakers to take cash as gifts or campaign donations, if they report it on disclosure forms and the gift is not tied to any sort of official action. Individual cash campaign donations over $100 are prohibited.
Lawmakers convicted of a felony cannot stay in office, and a bribery conviction triggers a pension forfeiture. They were the third and fourth state lawmakers to be charged this year.
Brown, 48, was elected in 2008. Waters, 64, was elected in 1999.
The investigation had been a secret until The Philadelphia Inquirer revealed its existence in a March report that said Kane had shut it down.
In deciding to drop the case, Kane, a Democrat, cited concerns over racial motivation, a long dormant period, questionable tactics and a plea deal that she said was so favorable that it undermined the credibility of the informant.
Williams, a Democrat who now employs the sting's lead agent and prosecutor from the attorney general's office, has challenged Kane's criticism as unfounded. Williams and all of the targets of the investigation are black. Kane is white.
On Tuesday, Williams said it was Kane's review, not the investigation, that appeared flawed. Kane, in a statement, said prosecutors disagree all the time on the merits of cases.
The informant, Tyron B. Ali, began working undercover after being arrested on charges in 2009 that he had stolen $430,000 in taxpayer money from a state food program for low-income children and seniors by forging bank statements, payroll records and expenses.
He had 113 meetings with various public officials and other contacts in 2010 through 2012. Williams' office charged another target of the sting, a former Philadelphia traffic court judge, in October. Thomasine Tynes was scheduled to plead guilty to perjury Wednesday.
Two other Philadelphia lawmakers also were targets of the sting, the Inquirer has reported. At least 17 current or former state lawmakers have been charged in the past decade.