Ex-agent sues Kane over sting case

150311_kathleenKane
Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane leaves Philadelphia City Hall after Pennsylvania Supreme Court argument hearing on Mar. 11, 2015.

A former Pennsylvania undercover agent has sued Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane for defamation, saying she made false statements about his role in a "sting" operation that caught Philadelphia elected officials on tape pocketing money.

Claude Thomas, who posed as the driver for the lobbyist turned operative in the sting, said Kane falsely told the public that he had said the operation had a racial agenda, targeting blacks and exempting whites.

Thomas notes in the suit that he is African American. He said Kane's suggestion that he had taken part in a plan to go after blacks had damaged his reputation by portraying him as unethical, incompetent, and a "greedy sellout."

He said it was part of a plot by Kane to "insidiously play the race card." Her goal, the lawsuit says, was to shift public focus from her "having killed this public corruption sting operation even though her political allies had been caught virtually red-handed by Thomas."

His lawsuit, filed April 16 in Common Pleas Court, sues Kane personally, not as a public official. It asks that she conduct a hearing to clear his name - and pay him damages out of her own pocket.

Kane's press staff did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

Thomas, now a detective with the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, had been an agent with the Attorney General's Office for 20 years in 2010 when prosecutors selected him to work with undercover operative Tyron B. Ali in the sting investigation. Ali was facing unrelated fraud charges and was seeking favorable treatment.

For the next year and a half, Thomas worked long days with Ali, driving him about in a confiscated BMW, as the agent made 183 surreptitious tapes of political figures, sometimes filming them with special glasses.

Kane, a Democrat, inherited the case when she took office and shut it down. The investigation was later resurrected by Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, who, as the Thomas suit notes, has brought bribery charges against five former or current state lawmakers and a former Traffic Court judge, all Democrats.

In criticizing the sting, Kane said she had a sworn statement by Kevin Wevodau, a top commander of agents in the Attorney General's Office, attesting that Thomas had told him that he had been instructed to target blacks.

In his complaint Thomas also sues Wevodau personally. Thomas denied saying the remarks that Wevodau put in his statement. And, Thomas says in the lawsuit, a polygraph test has shown he was telling the truth.

As part of their adoption of the sting, city prosecutors obtained case documents from Kane's office. In December, prosecutors said they had turned up a statement from Wevodau summarizing his interview with Thomas. However, they said, the statement was unsworn, and was written 15 months after Wevodau's interview with Thomas - four days after Kane said she had it in her possession.

 


cmccoy@phillynews.com

215-854-4821 @CraigRMcCoy