The Backstory: How Kathleen Kane became the ‘architect of her own ruin’

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It happened with relatively little fanfare.

Two convicted politicians got justice just days apart, bringing to a close one of the more bizarre sagas in Pennsylvania history.

And in this state, that’s saying something.

Former Democratic Attorney General Kathleen Kane checked into prison in Montgomery County one day.

Former state Representative Vanessa Lowery-Brown (D-Philadelphia) was sentenced to probation in Dauphin County the very next day.

Two different women.

Two different counties.

Two different cases, forever linked by one strange story.

“You couldn’t make it up or, if you did, you couldn’t sell it because no one in Hollywood would buy it,” Dauphin County District Attorney Fran Chardo said as he reflected on the series of events that unfolded following an undercover investigation by the attorney general’s office.

That sting was conducted in 2010 by an AG informant. Several state lawmakers from Philadelphia, including Lowery-Brown, were caught on tape taking money in exchange for votes.

But in 2014, the state’s first elected woman attorney general, Kathleen Kane, slammed a lid on the case and declined to prosecute it .

Her rejection of the case was leaked to the Philadelphia Inquirer, which ran a front-page spread. Publicly, Kane called it a bad case and racially motivated sting.

Privately, she’s seething. She’s angry at former prosecutor Frank Fina, who oversaw the sting. Kane believes Fina leaked the story to make her look bad. He insists he didn’t.

In an attempt to embarrass Fina, Kane does a little leaking of her own about a case that she believes Fina mishandled while working in the AG’s office. But she shares secret grand jury information with a reporter. That’s a no-no.

She ultimately lied about her involvement under oath. That’s a crime. And Kane was convicted.

“It’s a black spot on the office,” said Dauphin County prosecutor Mike Sprow, who used to work for the AG’s office but left just before Kane took over. “I think she did significant damage to the reputation of the attorney general’s office.”

But the office’s reputation isn’t the only thing damaged.

Kane also discovered and released inappropriate emails on work computers between Fina and several prominent officials, including Supreme Court justices Seamus McCaffrey and Mike Eakin, both of whom lost their jobs in the fallout. Corbett cabinet secretary Chris Abruzzo and other powerful men were also caught in the crossfire of that sting.

“It’s been a very strange period of time and sequence of events with all those public officials tied together pretty much by this one case,” said Sprow. “Everything’s an offshoot of that, that ended up with Kathleen Kane essentially being the architect of her own ruin.”

A ruin that seemed impossible a few years earlier when Kane was the talk of the town in Harrisburg and the first Democrat to be elected attorney general. She got more votes in Pennsylvania than Barack Obama and was whispered for higher office, like governor or the U.S. Senate.

Chardo watched it unfold and calls breathtaking all the players caught up in the carnage, most of all the mother of teenaged boys who checked into prison last week.

“It didn’t have to happen this way,” Chardo said in a soft voice while shaking his head. “And now that she’s serving her sentence, I’m sure she would say that she would do things differently, I’m sure. It didn’t have to be this way.”

Kane insists she’s the victim of a good old boys’ club out to get her.

Lowery-Brown has refused to resign her seat, though the state constitution mandates that she must.

Curiously, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, who took on the sting case and got pleas or convictions on all six elected officials who accepted bribes, was himself convicted of bribery in an unrelated case and is behind bars.

Almost as if it’s tainted by an ancient curse, many who have touched that one sting case have had misery visited upon them.

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