Philly state rep. convicted in controversial bribery ‘sting’

Four years after a controversial undercover sting of corruption in Harrisburg was revealed, Democratic Philly state representative Vanessa Lowery Brown, one of the six officials implicated in the scandal, was convicted on Thursday by a jury of bribery.

Brown accepted $4,000 in gifts in 2011 from an undercover operative who undertook a “sting” of various officials at the direction of state prosecutors.

Brown, 52, who won the 2018 primary to represent the 190th district despite the charges and was set to run in the November general election, reportedly wept after the verdict was announced, the Patriot-News reported.

The case emerged from a complicated and controversial undercover sting and has a long history freighted with ironies, littered with rampant corruption, destroyed careers and handled by two separate elected prosecutors who were separately convicted in their own criminals cases.

Brown’s verdict represents the first conviction at trial related to the sting. She could face or probation -time at sentencing, but will certainly be barred from running for state office and lose her pension.

The other five defendants all plead guilty or no contest, paying fines and leaving office but keeping their pensions, except Thomasine Tynes, who was also convicted of charges related to the Philly Traffic Court scandal.

It was back in 2014 that a Philadelphia Inquirer investigation first revealed that Democratic Attorney General Kathleen Kane had discarded the results of an undercover sting that was undertaken by her predecessor, the former AG and then- governor, Republican Tom Corbett.

In Corbett’s sting, undercover operative Tyron Ali had secretly recorded at least 113 encounters with state lawmakers over the course of 2011 and 2012. Only six accepted illegally unreported cash or gifts. But after taking office, Kane refused to pursue the sting further, and reportedly claimed the sting only targeted black Democrats.

After the reports emerged, former Philly DA Seth Williams, who had employed some of the investigators who worked on the sting and denied any evidence of racial targeting in the case, took over the investigation from Kane and went on to file criminal charges against all six individuals implicated in the sting: Brown, Tynes and former state reps Louise Bishop, Ronald Waters, Michelle Brownlee and Harold James.

Ironically, while none of the politicians implicated in the sting accepted more than $5,000, Ali himself was flipped to serve as an informant to dodge charges that he stole roughly $430,000 from a meals-on-wheels program he operated. And none of the bribes were for any concrete quid-pro-quos, just general influence, and in some cases, Democrats were recorded agreeing to support Democratic legislation.

Kane was so outraged by the Inquirer leak that she leaked grand jury documents establishing she had investigated the Philly NAACP’s former director to purportedly prove she was serious about corruption. She was later convicted of lying about the leak and sentenced to 10 months in prison. (She remains free on house arrest pending appeal).

Former DA Williams also went down hard, and is currently serving five years in federal prison after he pled guilty to corruption charges, in part for accepting more than $160,000 in unreported gifts.

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