A lawyer for State Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown, accused of accepting $4,000 in bribes, is charging the Philadelphia District Attorney's office with a conflict of interest.
Patrick A. Casey, a lawyer for Lowery Brown, filed a 21-page motion Tuesday in Dauphin County Court seeking to dismiss the case.
Casey's argument: the Philadelphia D.A.'s office has a conflict of interest in trying Lowery Brown on bribery charges because the acting D.A., First Assistant District Attorney Kathleen E. Martin, was a former member of a law firm that represented Brown's main accuser in the sting operation, Tyron Ali.
Martin was elevated to acting D.A. after the current D.A., R. Seth Williams, was hit with a 23-count federal indictment alleging bribery, extortion, mail fraud and honest services fraud. The state Supreme Court has since suspended Williams' law license.
But Martin's problem is that back in 2013, she was a member of a law firm, Levant, Martin & Tauber. The firm included her husband, Robert J. Levant, who, at the time was representing Tyron Ali. He was a confidential informant who in a sting operation, allegedly bribed Brown with a total of $4,000 in cash.
In his motion, Casey pointed out that Martin's "husband and longtime law partner Robert J. Levant Esq, previously privately represented the Commonwealth's star and sole material witness Tyron Ali in this very same matter."
"The same Mr. Ali who in 2013 had more than 2,000 pending felony and misdemeanor charges dismissed by the Commonwealth based on his cooperation against Ms. Lowery Brown," Casey wrote. "The very same cooperation which was memorialized in a Cooperation Agreement negotiated by Ms. Martin's husband and then law partner -- Mr. Levant."
"The prosecution's conflict of interest violates the ethical canons governing the conduct of lawyers and thoroughly deprives Ms. Lowery Brown of her constitutional right to an impartial prosecutor," Casey wrote.
In a testimony to the current state of affairs at our local district attorney's office, Cameron Kline, the D.A.s spokesman, responded in an email that he is currently out of the office because he is serving on jury duty.
So, in his absence, Kline replied in an automatic email response that all questions from the media should be referred to First Assistant District Attorney Martin.
In an email, Martin wrote, "The Office is reviewing the Motion at this time and will respond if appropriate."
Meanwhile, Lowery Brown's lawyer is arguing that she can't get a fair trial with Martin as D.A.
"Ms. Lowery Brown has the 'right' to have [her] case reviewed by an administrator of justice with his mind on the public purpose, not by an advocate whose judgment may be blurred by subjective reasons," Casey wrote.
"This incurable conflict taints the prosecution, entitles Ms. Lowery Brown to dismal of the charges and requires the disqualification of the prosecutors," Casey wrote.
In a footnote, Casey wrote that public records revealed that Martin's husband "contributed over $5,000 to the political committees of R. Seth Williams."
Tyron Ali was a smooth-talking, 40-year old native of Trinidad who wore Brooks Brothers suits and spoke three different languages. He became a confidential informant after he was indicted by the attorney general's office in 2009 on more than 2,000 counts that included fraud, theft and document tampering.
The indictment that originated with a grand jury in Dauphin County accused Ali of diverting $430,000 in funds from a federal program that provided meals in Philadelphia for disadvantaged school kids.
After he was charged with more than 2,000 felony and misdemeanor counts, Ali hired the law firm of Levant, Martin & Tauber to defend him. The firm did a great job in court of downplaying accusations that Ali was a thief.
"Nearly all" of the $430,000 that was allegedly stolen was subsequently accounted for, according to a subsequent memorandum of law filed by Levant.
Levant's law firm also negotiated a cooperating agreement with the state attorney general's office, then represented by Frank Fina, Chief Deputy for Public Corruption.
"As part of his cooperative agreement with the OAG, Mr. Ali became a confidential informant and operative for the OAG's office investigating public corruption," Casey wrote. "From 2010 to 2012, Mr. Ali was in regular contact with Mr. Mr. Fina and other attorneys and investigators for the OAG."
In his role as an confidential informant, Ali's undercover work was "unprecedented and nothing short of extraordinary," Levant wrote.
Former Attorney General Kathleen Kane declined to prosecute the cases brought by the sting operation. Then, Seth Williams stepped in.
"Later, in headline-grabbing and sanctimonious fashion, Mr. Williams challenged Attorney General Kane to transfer the investigation involving Lowery Brown to him," Casey wrote.
Four defendants targeted in the sting operation pleaded guilty. A fifth pleaded no contest. That left Lowery Brown as the only defendant still fighting the charges.
As part of her defense, Casey, Lowery Brown's lawyer, has argued that Ali was a "younger, attractive male leading on an older single woman." Ali, Casey wrote, flirted with Brown, called her "darling," and gave her chocolates and kisses while he was attempting to bribe her.
Casey has also continued to argue that the sting operation was racially motivated to target only black Democrats.
In a March 28, 2016 hearing, a judge asked Ali if this was true, and Ali denied it. However, Ali's account was contradicted by the FBI, Casey wrote. n a sworn declaration, Special Agent Richard J. Haag included an email exchange between the agent and Ali.
In the email exchange, Ali "indicated that he had several discussion[s] with at least two AG agents about specifically targeting Democrats in the state Legislature," the Haag declaration states.
Ali "had, on at least 2 occasions, contacted Republican lobbyists and public officials to include" in the sting operation, Haag wrote. Ali "was reprimanded for contacting the Republicans and told he was not to take any initiative in contacting Republicans in the future," according to FBI Agent Haag.
Ali "was encouraged to show iniative in contacting Democrats," Haag wrote. Ali "was not allowed to take cash or offer cash payments to Republicans . . . [the] AG's office did not want him to get involved with Republicans."
If the FBI agent is to believed, Casey wrote, Ali "made a false denial -- under oath."
"Mr. Levant and Ms. Martin represented Mr. Ali during his cooperation, which makes them witnesses and imposes upon them the obligation of candor to the tribunal," Casey wrote. "For Ms. Martin, further ethical conflicts exist because of her prior representation of Mr. Ali, her current representation of the Commonwealth, and her current obligations as Ms. Lowery Brown's prosecutor."
According to the cooperation agreement with the AG's office, the Commonwealth has the "sole discretion" to determine whether Ali "breached the cooperation agreement," Casey wrote. "The very cooperation agreement negotiated, executed and enforced by Mr. Levant while Ms. Martin was his law partner," Casey wrote.
"If Mr. Ali did breach the agreement -- and Ms. Lowery Brown posits that he did -- it will be left to the Philadelphia District Attorney's office to determine whether to prosecute Mr. Ali accordingly," Casey wrote. "This is a paradigmatic -- and disqualifying -- legal conflict."
At the end of his motion to dismiss, Casey asked that all electronic communication to be preserved between Ali and his lawyers, as well as Ali's communication with all current and former employees of the D.A.'s office.
Casey asks the judge in the case to schedule an evidentiary hearing, and he also asks for a stay of trial, which was scheduled to begin next week. But the judge in the case has decided to postpone a trial date until June 19th.