PHILADELPHIA — Two state lawmakers from Philadelphia and an ex-legislator have been charged with pocketing cash in an influence-peddling case taken up by the city's top prosecutor after being dropped by the state attorney general.
Democratic Reps. Louise Williams Bishop and Michelle Brownlee, and former Rep. Harold James, who last served in 2012, surrendered Tuesday in Harrisburg to face conspiracy, bribery and other counts.
The arrests raised to six the number charged in a case abandoned by Attorney General Kathleen Kane, also a Democrat. They are all accused of improperly accepting cash or gifts from informant Tyrone Ali, a lobbyist working undercover for prosecutors.
Kane has said the probe was too flawed to yield convictions. Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams revived the case in June after The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Kane had shut it down. Some of the investigators who started the probe in her office now work for him.
Brownlee and James acknowledged wrongdoing to a grand jury and expressed remorse, Williams said at a news conference.
Bishop is accused of accepting $1,500 from the lobbyist, and also agreeing to "stack" a liquor control committee to help push to privatize the industry on the lobbyist's behalf. The prosecutor said Brownlee took $2,000 and James $750.
The district attorney said it pained him to file charges against the lawmakers, fellow Democrats who also include long-time friends.
He said that other lawmakers had rebuffed the lobbyist when he showed up at their offices talking about money.
"I have known and looked up to Rev. Bishop almost my entire life," Williams said. "My mother listened to her gospel radio show. ... Mrs. Bishop (thought) all that would save her in the end. That is what she told many people. But it can't."
Bishop's lawyer accused Williams of breaching grand jury secrecy rules by telling reporters that Bishop invoked her rights under the Fifth Amendment, which protects against self-incrimination. He also said his client would fight the charges.
"Telling the public that she refused to answer questions and pled the fifth is horrifyingly unethical and illegal," lawyer A. Charles Peruto Jr. said.
James' lawyer, Jeremy Walker, declined to comment. Brownlee's lawyer did not immediately return a call for comment.
Democratic Reps. Ron Waters and Vanessa Lowery Brown of Philadelphia have also been charged in the influence-peddling investigation. A sixth defendant, ex-Philadelphia Traffic Court Judge Thomasine Tynes, was accused of accepting a $2,000 Tiffany bracelet. She has pleaded guilty to a charge of conflict of interest.
Asked about Kane, the district attorney called the attorney general "her own worst enemy." Kane deflected a question about that criticism, saying after an appearance before the House Appropriations Committee in Harrisburg that she had been focused on her agency's budget all day.
Bishop's attorney accused Williams of filing the charges in Dauphin County, which is home to Harrisburg, to find jurors more willing to convict than Bishop's fellow Philadelphians. By contrast, he said, the alleged crimes, prosecutor, grand jury and supervising judge were all based in Philadelphia.
"But he chose to bring charges in Harrisburg because it's not about justice, it's about a county that's most likely to convict," Peruto said.
Associated Press writers Marc Levy and Mark Scolforo in Harrisburg contributed to this report.
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