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Published by James O'Toole on .

In a case that carries echoes of the prosecutions of former state Sen. Jane Orie and her sister, former state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin, state Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane announced charges against a state senator from the Philadelphia area, charging that she used her state staff for political purposes.

A grand jury handed up a presentment against state Sen. LeAnna Washington, charging that "through intimidation and verbal abuse,'' she pressured her staff to assist in campaign activities including a birthday-themed fundraiser for her re-election.  

"According to the grand jury, some senate staff members devoted almost all of their time in the weeks and months leading up to the fundraiser maintaining databases for fundraising invitations and events; creating campaign fundraiser invitations; printing thousands of campaign fundraiser invitations; stuffing and stamping the envelopes for campaign fundraisers; and listing campaign contributions and expenditures to send to Senator Washington's campaign treasurer,'' the AG's office said.

 

"In addition, the grand jury learned that signs and posters for the political fundraiser were printed at the Senate Graphic Design Department located in Harrisburg, as well as congratulatory signage celebrating family milestones and other deliverables for Senator Washington's campaign activities.''

In an interview with the Associated Press, Ms. Washington's attorney called the charges, "thin and specious.''

Here's the full release from the AG's office

 

HARRISBURG - Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane today announced that her office has filed criminal charges against state Senator LeAnna Washington (D-4), 68, 8960 Limekiln Pike, Cheltenham, Montgomery County, for allegedly using her elected office for political and financial gain.

Attorney General Kane said agents and prosecutors from the Office of Attorney General's Criminal Prosecutions Section presented evidence of Senator Washington’s criminal activities before a statewide investigating grand jury, which recommended the charges being filed today.

"The evidence will show that Senator Washington pressured her staff into performing political activities using taxpayer dollars for her own personal benefit," said Attorney General Kane.

The grand jury found that Senator Washington, through intimidation and verbal abuse, directed senate staff to perform campaign work even though staff knew what they were doing was against the law and that they had an obligation to report such activities.

The alleged activities center around Senator Washington using state-paid employees and equipment at her district offices to organize an annual political campaign birthday fundraiser, which one former staff member described as a 'grand, gala event' held in late July to coincide with the senator's birthday. Senator Washington's district offices are located at 1168 Easton Road, Roslyn, Montgomery County, and 1555-A Wadsworth Ave., Philadelphia.

Senator Washington allegedly hid the activities from staff who expressed concern over the practices they knew to be wrong, going so far as to issue salary cuts and fire staff who disagreed with the activities.

According to the grand jury, some senate staff members devoted almost all of their time in the weeks and months leading up to the fundraiser maintaining databases for fundraising invitations and events; creating campaign fundraiser invitations; printing thousands of campaign fundraiser invitations; stuffing and stamping the envelopes for campaign fundraisers; and listing campaign contributions and expenditures to send to Senator Washington's campaign treasurer.

In addition, the grand jury learned that signs and posters for the political fundraiser were printed at the Senate Graphic Design Department located in Harrisburg, as well as congratulatory signage celebrating family milestones and other deliverables for Senator Washington's campaign activities.

Attorney General Kane noted that in 2010, in response to the criminal convictions of other Pennsylvania legislators, the senate passed Resolution 228 regarding Senate Ethics Rules for their own ethical conduct. Senator Washington was one of the measure's sponsors, yet at the same time she and her employees - at her direction and under her supervision - were allegedly violating the very criminal laws the policy was based upon. 

The monetary loss to the Commonwealth is believed to range from at least $30,000 to in excess of $100,000.

Senator LeAnna Washington is charged with one count of theft of services, a felony of the third degree that carries a maximum term of seven years imprisonment and a maximum fine of $15,000. She also is charged under the Public Official and Employee Ethics Act with one count of violation of the conflict of interest statute, a felony that carries a maximum term of five years imprisonment and a maximum fine of $10,000.

If convicted of all counts, Senator Washington faces a maximum sentence of 12 years imprisonment and a maximum fine of $25,000. Senator Washington is being allowed to turn herself in today. 

The case will be prosecuted in Montgomery County by Senior Deputy Attorney General Susan DiGiacomo of the Criminal Prosecutions Section.

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