New Era Photo: Blaine Shahan
Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett’s election opponent claims the top prosecutor botched the Bonusgate probe by raiding only one of the four legislative caucuses, potentially sparing his Republican political allies. Democrat John M. Morganelli, in an interview with the New Era’s editorial board on Wednesday, claimed the year-and-a-half-long investigation is “messed up” and prosecution of GOP workers in the House and Senate — some of whom supported Corbett’s election campaign — will be difficult.
“I’ve been a district attorney for 16 years, and here’s one thing I know: If I have four potential targets, and I think they all might be involved in the same thing, and if I go to house A and take all the evidence out and wait two years to go after B, C and D, there’s not going to be any evidence in B, C and D,” he said. “What you do is you have to swoop in all at one time. What you do is you have four targets, and you say, ‘OK, we’re going to execute search warrants — boom.’ And you go in and you take everything out,” he said. “You take the boxes of files, you take the computers, you take everything out.”
A spokesman for Corbett called the remarks irresponsible.
“John Morganelli is speaking about something either, one, he doesn’t know anything about or, two, he doesn’t care to take the time to learn about,” said Kevin Harley. “The reason we executed a search warrant was because there was evidence that people in the House Democratic Research Office were destroying documents.” Harley said there was no evidence that records in any of the other three caucuses — House Republicans, Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats — were being destroyed, and therefore Corbett did not obtain search warrants for them.
“There are different ways to get records and other documents,” Harley said. “There are ways to do it, and we have lots of information. It’s very irresponsible for Morganelli to make these claims. He’s throwing mud against the wall hoping that something will stick.” Harley added that investigators did rush to a House Republican office after getting a tip that workers were moving boxes on a Friday night. “We had agents go over there immediately, and it turns out they were not destroying boxes,” Harley said. “They were moving offices. But as soon as we heard about that, we went in.”
Corbett announced one week ago that his office had filed charges against 12 people connected to the state House Democratic caucus, including a state representative and the former caucus whip. The charges are based on a grand jury’s conclusion that millions of taxpayer dollars were illegally siphoned from the public treasury to underwrite political campaigns. Corbett has said repeatedly that the investigation of all four caucuses is ongoing, and that more people will be charged.
Morganelli, the Northampton County district attorney who is making his third run for attorney general, said he believes Corbett has begun softening his earlier statement that more charges are to come. He referred to Corbett’s interview with a Pittsburgh radio station earlier this week in which the attorney general said, “I can’t say that I will be bringing charges against anybody. We will file charges when we have the evidence.” “I think what we’re seeing is the foundation is being laid for, ‘We did the investigation, but we just don’t have the same amount of evidence,’” Morganelli said.
Harley defended Corbett’s remarks, saying, “That’s Tom Corbett being a responsible prosecutor. It would be irresponsible, as John Morganelli is suggesting, to announced that we’re going to be charging anybody before we have the evidence.”
Asked if he was saying Corbett blew the investigation, Morganelli said: “I think so. I think it’s going to be very, very hard because all you’re left with is a prima facie case of the bonus awards, and that’s not enough.” Morganelli stopped short, however, of saying Corbett’s decision not to raid House and Senate Republicans was political in nature. “But he decided, ‘I’m only going after House Democrats first, and the investigation will continue against the other guys later.’ Well, OK. But I think that’s a mistake,” he said.