Meet Ken Smukler.
You’ve seen his name lately in stories from The Inquirer and The Legal Intelligencer about a veteran politican consultant shopping leaked emails to local press, in a bid to smear Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s political opponents.
And remember how Kane quashed a subpoena from a 2013 grand jury into Louis DeNaples, a Scranton millionaire with reported mob ties who was also a Pennsylvania Casino Association member?
Well, Smukler was also that association’s executive director and confidant of DeNaples. As Executive Director, Smukler worked on behalf of PCA members Rivers Casino of Pittsburgh, Mount Airy Casino Resort in the Poconos and SugarHouse of Philadelphia.
Calls to Smukler’s cell and home phone were not returned by press time.
A few months after taking office in 2013, The Inquirer reported, Kane revoked two subpoenas sent weeks before in a grand jury investigation, including one to Mt. Airy Casino Resort’s former owner Louis DeNaples.
DeNaples donated $25,000 to the Attorney General’s campaign fund five months later through his Scranton real estate firm, which Kane, under pressure, later returned.
At the time, Kane declined to comment on the matter, citing grand jury secrecy.
DeNaples applied for a casino license in 2006, and had already bought and renovated Mt. Airy Lodge in the Poconos for the purpose. His licensing came under heavy scrutiny for alleged connections to organized crime members.
The Mt. Airy Casino’s license was approved in 2007 — DeNaples allegedly had an inside man on the gaming board — but hit a snag when DeNaples was indicted on charges lying about his mob ties the next year. Charges were eventually dropped in return for DeNaples’s agreement to sign over the gambling operation to a family trust. He was barred from personally profiting from or even entering the casino, which is now run by his daughter.
The PCA hired Smukler in October 2009 to succeed former State Supreme Court Chief Justice Stephen Zappala as Executive Director, when Zappala stepped aside over concerns that his former elected position presented a conflict of interest.
Smukler is also the president of Voterlink Data Systems and InfoVoter Technologies. He has worked as a consultant and political operative for US Congressman and Philadelphia Democratic Party leader Bob Brady and for the campaigns of Marjorie Margolies (Chelsea Clinton’s mother-in-law!) in Montgomery County. Voterlink handled phone and bank data for Hillary Clinton’s successful 2000 US Senate campaign.
He played a key role in voter activation during the 2008 presidential primary as the director of an NAACP hotline.
In frequent appearances on the Tom Joyner Morning Show during the 2008 election season, Smukler, who is white, would “perform black,” particularly around state primary election dates.
From a May 6, 2008 broadcast of Smukler’s “Trickery Report”:
“Ken Smukler: Well, it’s the fine line between trickery and shiggedy! [Smukler explains multiple voting problems in North Carolina and Indiana primaries] Yesterday it would’ve been easier to find a Cinco de Mayo party in Laredo, Texas with Pat Buchanan doing the Mexican hat dance than it was to find your poll location in North Carolina!”
Smukler continued contracting for the gaming industry with work as a consultant to the SS United States Conservancy. He was brought on by H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, the billionaire philanthropist and owner of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, who had given $5 million toward rehabbing the asbestos-caked vessel.
Lenfest wished to win the bid for Philly’s second gambling license to run a casino on the now-rusting former cruiseliner. That license went to another developer, leading to what will become the South Philly Live! casino along Oregon Avenue.
Smukler also owns and operates the Liberty City Press, which claims to be Philly’s “largest weekly paper.” This distinction may refer to its role as media buyer for a newspaper coalition that includes the Philadelphia Gay News and Al Dia, but the profitable purpose of Smukler’s Press is an open secret.
Philadelinquency’s Christopher Sawyer, a candidate for sheriff in the Nov. 3 election, reported Oct. 27 that he had received in a right-to-know response a check stub from Sheriff Jewell Williams’s office, representing a $158,000 payment for Sheriff Sale space in Smukler’s Liberty City Press. The check is for one-half month, or one edition, worth of notices.
The latest 12-page edition of the Press includes seven pages of these ads. Its non-ad pages frequently include Smukler’s elbow-rubbing with Philadelphia “Notables.” It also runs pro-casino editorials
In February 2014, Isaiah Thompson reported in Axis Philly that a similar arrangement under former Philadelphia Sheriff John Green, with Reach Communications, was carried on by Williams with Smukler’s Liberty City Press. In 2014 the contract was valued at about $2 million per year, for a handful of small publications running ads with Smukler as a broker.
When the first federal criminal charges against employees of the Sheriff’s Department were announced in 2011, the department’s spokesman was Ken Smukler.
Interim Sheriff Barbara Deeley hired Smukler as communications director in December 2010, after demoting his predecessor, who was then on medical leave, to special assistant. That demotion was cited in a lawsuit against the department brought in 2012 by four former employees, who alleged racial bias.
Smukler was the recipient of one of several honorary deputy badges distributed by Sheriff Deeley to politically connected associates in January of 2011.
So why is Smukler doing Kane’s dirty work? Especially considering several of his patrons, including Bob Brady, left Kane’s camp not long after a Montgomery County grand jury voted to indict her?
Those reports of Smukler personally delivering supposedly scandalous communications to several media outlets have led to a ton of exposure for Smukler, who reportedly has an affinity for comparing himself to Tom Hagen, the mafia consigliere from The Godfather. Hagen worked behind the scenes.
Emails connected to the account of Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Eakin that have been distributed by Smukler contain graphic images as well as racist and misogynist “jokes.” But there’s less proof of what Smukler has called a “toxic” relationship between a judge and a prosecutor. It’s harder to see how Kane or Smukler, who has a law degree from Penn State, could have believed the material would be PR coup.
The Legal Intelligencer pointed to another key difference between those two leaks: “Unlike the clean and legible emails Kane released to the public Wednesday,” the latest set “appear to be photos of a screen pieced together and printed in a multiple-page packet.”
Smukler told the Intelligencer that he obtained the emails, which were originally sent from Judge Barry Feudale’s private computer, via a “source within a network of people who wanted to bring down [Frank] Fina and Feudale” and would “also like to bring down former Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille.”
All this current leakage can be traced back to a feud between Kane and former Deputy Attorney General Frank Fina, over Kane’s belief that Fina was the source for an embarrassing Inquirer story. Smukler said Kane should have gotten in front of that scandal by preemptively offering her own version of events.
Feudale is a Democrat, and says he voted for Kane in the primary.
Chuch Ardo, Kane’s spokesman, said Smukler has worked for Kane “occasionally for at least a few months,” but did not know how he obtained the Feudale emails.
In July of 2012, Smukler was positing to reporters that Kane could be elected senator or governor. And back in January Smukler predicted: “I don’t see Kathleen Kane pleading in this. I look at Kathleen Kane like a Jane Orie.”
After DA Seth Williams announced in September that he wouldn’t be firing anyone over Porngate part one, Smukler warned: “I don’t think that this story ends with the publication of a statement on the Friday afternoon before Labor Day…he might be underestimating those who believe that anything short of dismissal is offensive.”