John L. Micek, Penn Live, March 14, 2014
So here’s all you need to know about what’s wrong with Harrisburg:
“I’m the [expletive deleted] senator. I do what the [expletive deleted] I want, how I want, and ain’t nobody going to change me. I have been doing it like this for 17 years. So stop trying to change me.”
The architect of that deathless prose was state Sen. LeAnna Washington. That 2012 outburst came in response to an entirely sensible suggestion from her then chief-of-staff, Sean McCray, who thought it might not be such a great idea to have Washington’s taxpayer-funded staff — in the middle of the work day — send out invitations to a birthday fund-raiser.
What, with that kind of activity being illegal and all.
For his troubles, McCray, who’d been protesting steadily for a month about Washington’s habit of using her staff do political work on the taxpayer’s dime, had his pay docked by $10,000. And it eventually got him fired.
According to a grand jury presentment, which includes Washington’s outburst, McCray went to law enforcement in Montgomery County and told his story.
And last week, state Attorney General Kathleen Kane, a Democrat, charged Washington, a fellow Democrat whose district includes parts of Philadelphia and Montgomery County, 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.
Specifically, the grand jury report alleges that Washington used 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.” The July event coincided with Washington’s birthday, according to a statement by Kane’s office.
Washington is the second lawmaker — not to mention the second Democrat and second Philadelphia legislator — to be arrested this year on public corruption charges so amateurish and offensive that you wonder why they even bothered. For those of you keeping score at home, Rep. J.P. Miranda, the other one, has been charged with ghost pay-rolling.
Enter Jamila Hall, a college student who spent five years, from 2007 though 2011, working in Washington’s office.
According to the presentment, here’s what she told investigators about what she did for Washington on your dime:
“We would also meet with caterers, decorators, photographers, regarding the menu and the theme and her vision for the party,” the grand jury presentment reads. “All the orders were placed, like party items, ice sculpture, bubble machine, chairs, balloons, tents, linens, tables.”
Understandably, “checks would also begin to come in via Post Office Box, and also hand-delivered,” the presentment reads. “The Senator would bring them into the office, or people would drop them off to the office.”
Because that’s what you do when you throw yourself a birthday party, right? You check on the linens and the ice sculpture and the bubble machine. And you generate your list of invitees from state-owned computers too, right?
Oh … you don’t? Then you’re going to love this:
Hall told the grand jury that lists of potential invitees to Washington’s annual birthday bash were “printed from previous lists kept on Senate computers,” and given to Washington to review and mark-up. From there, Washington would “say ‘yes’ or ’no’ to that individual and [decide] what dollar amount would be on that individual’s invitation.”
The grand jury report also alleges 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, according to Kane’s office.
Hall also testified that the Senate computers had access to a “voter information system” and could verify names and addresses. Hall said her boss would comb through the list “while sitting in her district office during the workday and [comment] out loud on people on the list.” Hall estimated that this process would result in 1,000 to 1,500 invitations being printed for the party.
According to Kane’s office, these activities allegedly cost the taxpayers somewhere in the neighborhood of $30,000 to north of $100,000.