Among porn scandal casualties: Four who didn't send a single email

Attorney General Email Investigation
Pennsylvania Attorney General Bruce Beemer speaks during a news conference at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016.

Two years ago, then-Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane staged one of the most unusual public gatherings in the history of Harrisburg: She summoned reporters to a room to examine pornographic emails found on her agency's computers, naming eight officials involved with them.

The impact was swift and nasty. Reputations were tarnished. Five people lost their jobs. Careers were thrown off track.

On Tuesday, Kane's successor, Attorney General Bruce Beemer, said Kane had been wrong to single out the eight when hundreds of other government workers had received offensive emails - including more than 350 in her agency alone.

Beemer spoke in justification of his decision to release a new report on the email scandal from a special prosecutor hired by Kane, but only after scrubbing it of any names.

That left the eight further isolated as public faces of the scandal.

They were Frank Noonan, then state police commissioner; E. Christopher Abruzzo, then chief of the state Department of Environmental Protection; Kevin Harley, a former agency press secretary; and four former state prosecutors, Patrick Blessington, Christopher Carusone, Glenn Parno, and Richard Sheetz. Kane also named Randy Feathers, a former agent in her office.

After Beemer's remarks, Mark W. Tanner, a lawyer for several of the men, sharply criticized Kane. He said their roles had been hyped because of "misinformation, accepted at face value, disseminated by Kane and her operatives for purposes of political retribution."

The special prosecutor, Doug Gansler, said that as a matter of fairness he would not identify anyone who merely received an email.

But he did single out for criticism a group of 38 former or current officials whom he identified as "high volume" senders, who had sent 50 or more troubling emails outside the agency.

Of the eight initially named by Kane, none was in the high-volume group, according to documents from Gansler's review and interviews.

And while a Kane aide once described the men as making up a "a core group who sent and received a majority of the emails," three of them - Blessington, Harley, and Noonan - did not originate or forward a single troubling email, according to interviews.

In lawsuits against Kane by most of the eight, they assert the reason Kane named them was that they were close with another former state prosecutor, Frank Fina. It was her vendetta against Fina, prosecutors have said, that led to Kane's downfall and ultimately her conviction on charges that she illegally leaked grand jury material in a bid to publicly embarrass him.

In her unsuccessful fight to quash the criminal investigation of her, Kane filed court papers naming Fina and another former prosecutor, E. Marc Costanzo, calling them "peddlers of pornography and obscenity." Despite Kane's description, Costanzo was not named in the original Gansler report; he did not sent any offensive emails, according to interviews.

His lawyer, Fortunato Perri, said the report amounted to a "vindication" for Costanzo.

As for Fina, he received an official notice from Gansler that he was not among the high-volume group of senders.

Tanner said that his clients had suffered while others - "far more prolific" with troubling emails - had remained "unidentified, employed and with their reputations and careers intact because they did not suffer the wrath of our former attorney general."

Along with the former staffers in the Attorney General's Office, the porn scandal eventually engulfed two Supreme Court justices, Seamus McCaffery and J. Michael Eakin, who each quit the court.

Former Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille, not Kane, originally pushed for disclosure of McCaffery's emails. Kane made public Eakin emails in 2015 as her legal problems grew.

cmccoy@phillynews.com

215-854-4821 @CraigRMcCoy