pennstate-porngate

How the scandal that ensnared Seth Williams and Kathleen Kane has its roots in Jerry Sandusky and Joe Paterno

The attorney general of Pennsylvania is involved. A former governor is involved. A state Supreme Court justice was kicked off the bench. Dozens of state employees were ensnared. Two of Philadelphia’s top prosecutors who have put politicians behind bars are involved. And now, the District Attorney of Philadelphia is entangled in its web. The scandal that enveloped our state and city government this year so aptly called “Porngate” remains a raging war between the top lawyers in Pennsylvania.

It all comes back to a bitter rivalry waged over the man whose crimes against children collectively disgusted the nation just a few years ago: Jerry Sandusky. And you can’t really talk about Sandusky without the bigger name that looms over that scandal, and touches on questions of legacy: Joseph Vincent Paterno.

Philadelphia DA Seth Williams is under pressure this week to fire two of his top lawyers, Frank Fina and E. Marc Costanzo for their involvement in the email-driven Porngate. The emails, released under court order last week, showed the pair were involved in mass-forwarding-of-porn-and-dirty-joke email ring when they were investigating Sandusky under then-AG Tom Corbett years ago.

That’s worth repeating: The veteran investigators, in the middle of building the case for half a hundred criminal sex charges against a former assistant football coach at Pennsylvania’s largest university, decided to email dirty jokes and porny pics around using their taxpayer-funded inter-office email system.

Williams’ office has said it’s reviewing the details, but hasn’t yet taken any action against the two men, who are only the most recent government employees to have been implicated in Porngate. But the calls for action from Williams are mounting.

“The fact of the matter is,” said Ray Blehar, a Penn State grad and close follower of the scandal, “that we would not have Porngate if it had not been for the Sandusky case.”

If it had not been for the Sandusky case, it’s likely a nasty war between indicted Attorney General Kathleen Kane and former Sandusky prosecutor Fina wouldn’t have played out the way it did. If it had not been for the Sandusky case, there’s a chance constituents would never have known that lawyers and judges liked passing around porn. Kane wouldn’t have leaked information to the Daily News in a bid to make Fina look bad. And if she didn’t do that, she wouldn’t be facing criminal charges for lying about it.

How it began

Kathleen Kane was in many ways the hero of the movement to exonerate Penn State from responsibility in the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

Since the former Penn State assistant coach was charged in 2011 with using his charity for underserved kids to groom and sexually abuse boys, Penn State faced backlash, from then-Governor Tom Corbett through the judicial system to court of public opinion. Three former administrators were charged for covering up his crimes — they still await trial — and the late, legendary football coach Paterno was fired. He died from lung cancer in January 2012 just a few months after his ousting.

Now, nearly four years later, a large contingent of Penn State Nation continues to fight for what they see as the truth — that Penn State wasn’t responsible institutionally for aiding and abetting the abuse of children, and Sandusky was free to abuse for years largely because of a broken system.

So when Kane was running for the Office of the Attorney General in 2012, she swore to the massive Penn State contingent still seething over the handling of the Sandusky case and related matters that she would review the state’s investigation into the scandal. She promised that “no stone would be unturned” while she looked to find a political connection to the eventual outcome of the scandal that left Penn State’s reputation tarnished.

While campaigning, Kane implied on many occasions that then-Attorney General Tom Corbett and his team slow-walked the investigation so it wouldn’t get in the way of his 2010 bid for the governor’s office. She was campaigning on the promise of tearing down what was probably the most infamous case Fina had prosecuted.

Kane handily won election. Many of the state’s 300,000 Penn State alumni backed her, and they came out to the polls. Her review of the investigation into Sandusky began in 2013. But it didn’t show what so many thought it would: Politics.

Her office’s 166-page report was released in June 2014 and, while it may have showed the prosecutors could have moved more swiftly here or there while they were investigating Sandusky, it presented no concrete evidence that politics played a role. There was nothing that flat-out showed that Corbett prioritized his successful run for Governor over doing his job as a prosecutor and fast-tracking the Sandusky investigation. Still, Fina’s name had been dragged through the mud.

“I think Kathleen’s intentions were very good,” Penn State trustee Anthony Lubrano said. “I think Kathleen very much believes that we’re all entitled to due process, and that justice shouldn’t be an ideal for some and not others. And I think she went after some people.”

Documents recently unsealed show that Fina was attempting to cooperate with the review — conducted by special prosecutor H. Geoffrey Moulton — when he requested a complete review of his own emails so that he could look over them himself and appropriately prepare for questions Moulton would fling at him.

But that request for those emails ultimately became worse for Fina: It’s what allowed Kane’s office to stumble upon the pornographic emails in the first place. Suddenly, Fina wasn’t so interested in reviewing those emails, and he and his attorney didn’t even come to meetings to review the emails that he had fought to obtain not long before.

Who is Frank Fina?

Frank Fina has been around the block when it comes to Pennsylvania politics, and when it comes to prosecuting some of the top criminals in the state.

Fina was named chief deputy attorney general under Corbett in 2006 and was tapped to lead a new public corruption unit. In 2008, his team led the investigation and prosecution of state politicians in “Bonusgate,” which went on to accuse Democratic leaders of illegally paying their staff members millions of dollars to perform campaign-related duties. A former state representative and eight staff members ended up being convicted.

Not long after Bonusgate came “Computergate,” a case that found longtime Northeast Philly Rep. and one-time Speaker of the House John Perzel was spending taxpayer dollars to develop software that would help Republicans win elections. Perzel pleaded guilty to the charges.

Fina then investigated Sandusky and Penn State, the case that was seen by some as the largest and most disturbing scandal to ever hit college athletics. When Kathleen Kane took office in January 2012 under the promise to review the investigation into Sandusky, Fina left Harrisburg and was hired was Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams to work on large or special projects in Philly.

Meanwhile, things were brewing on another front: It was reported in March 2014 by The Philadelphia Inquirer that Kane shut down an investigation led by Fina that implicated a number of Philadelphia public officials caught on tape accepting bribes. Kane said the sting operation was racist and ill-conceived from the start; it also only targeted Democrats, members of Kane’s party.

When Kane refused to prosecute the case, Williams — who now had Fina on his staff — took it on. Six public officials ended up being charged, with four pleading guilty and two more still awaiting trial.

Charges for Kane

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Not long after, Fina and Costanzo went to a Montgomery County judge in May 2014 to tell Judge William Carpenter that they fielded calls from a Philadelphia Daily News reporter who had secret information regarding a stalled grand jury probe from 2009 that was related to Philadelphia NAACP leader J. Whyatt Mondesire. 

The report the two attorneys made was the beginning of a grand jury investigation into who leaked what to the Daily News — an investigation that quickly led Carpenter to Kane’s office. The grand jury ended up recommending charges against Kane, and Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman announced formal charges of perjury and obstruction of justice earlier this month.

Kane has vehemently refused to step down from her post as attorney general, despite calls from top Democrats including Gov. Tom Wolf and now a push from higher-ups to get her law license stripped. She held a strange press conference not long after charges were filed in which she denied wrongdoing and promised those involved with Porngate were targeting her for going after them.

That seemed aimed at Fina and Co. Just days later, their porny laundry was aired for everyone to read.

What’s next

The Office of the District Attorney wouldn’t comment further on the case, besides saying it’s reviewing the emails in question and will look to enforce its clear HR policies. Williams wasn’t made available to Billy Penn to defend himself. Meanwhile, calls from the Penn State contingency are mounting for him to take action against his prosecutors. They say he’s enabling a rape culture by not immediately firing Fina and Costanzo.

“Three Penn State administrators were indicted,” said Penn State alumna Linda Berkland, “with Frank Fina as lead prosecutor, based on far less evidence than we have seen against Frank Fina.”

While Williams hasn’t spoken to reporters about Fina — mind you, Williams is under federal investigation himself — he was quick to draw the connection between the Sandusky scandal, Penn State and Porngate in a Twitter exchange with @ChiTownLionPSU. Williams is a Penn State graduate who once ran for the Board of Trustees (and lost) and has said his ultimate goal in life is to become president of the university.

When @ChiTownLionPSU tweeted this NSFW image at Williams by saying “Culture enabled by @DASethWilliams,” the district attorney responded as such:

He continued:

The Penn State contingent, which wants the names of Penn State and Joe Paterno cleared of wrongdoing in the Sandusky scandal, will continue pressuring Williams to do something about Fina — about the man who they see as an enemy.

He’s one of the group of people from the attorney general’s office who wrote a scathing grand jury presentment in 2012 that implicated Penn State officials in a cover-up that these alumni think didn’t happen, even though Fina has said before that he didn’t find evidence to prove Paterno was part of a criminal cover-up.

Blehar said though that Fina shouldn’t put the burden on Williams. Fina should go himself.

“Fina should resign his position in the DA’s office,” Blehar said. “The information found on his computer certainly would cause victims of sexual abuse and exploitation to have second thoughts about Fina representing them. This is an issue of public trust, and that trust was broken.”

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