Despite plea for leniency, Kane gets 10 to 23 months in jail

20161025_inq_skane25-c
Kathleen G. Kane is led out of the Montgomery County Courthouse in handcuffs by sheriff's deputies.

Former Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane was sentenced Monday to 10 to 23 months in jail for orchestrating an illegal news leak to damage a political enemy, capping a spectacular downfall for a woman once seen as one of the state's fastest-rising stars.

"The case is about ego, ego of a politician consumed by her image from Day One," Judge Wendy Demchick-Alloy told Kane at the end of a five-hour hearing in Norristown. "And instead of focusing solely on the business of fighting crime, the focus was battling these perceived enemies ... and utilizing and exploiting her position to do it."

A tearful Kane pleaded for leniency, urging the judge to consider the impact on her sons.

"I would cut off my right arm if they were separated from me and I from them," she said. "Please sentence me and not them."

But Demchick-Alloy was not swayed. "It's a shame that they had to go through all of this," she told Kane. "But that's a decision you made, not this court."

Unable to immediately post $75,000 bail, Kane was led in handcuffs from the courtroom to the Montgomery County Correctional Facility in Eagleville. She was released hours later - and might not have to return any time soon. She will remain free on bail until she exhausts her state appeals, a process that could take months.

Still, the sentencing marked a bitter end to a career that drew national attention after Kane, a political neophyte and Scranton-area prosecutor, in 2012 became the first Democrat and woman to be elected attorney general of Pennsylvania.

Over hours on Monday, the judge heard Kane's supporters - including one of her sons - extol her accomplishments and describe how devastating her conviction has been.

But Montgomery County prosecutors countered by calling to the stand Kane's current and former colleagues, who testified how she let a personal feud and paranoia poison the state's top law enforcement office and plunge it into disarray.

Erik Olsen, a top prosecutor, said he was thrilled when Kane won election, thinking her victory would bring a much-needed fresh perspective to an office he said had at times been "misogynistic and mean-spirited."

Instead, he testified, "through a pattern of systematic firings and Nixonian espionage, she created a terror zone in this office."

Kane's first year was marked by political and public relations successes. She drew attention for her stands in support of marriage equality and gun control and for crippling Republican Gov. Tom Corbett's move to privatize the lottery - all positions her lawyer cited Monday in arguing for house arrest.

But after her star began to dim in 2014, she leaked confidential grand jury material to a newspaper in a bid to embarrass a political enemy, then lied about her actions under oath. The ensuing two years became a bitter war, often played out through legal filings or public statements, that at times entangled government officials, state Supreme Court justices, and the legislature.

At a trial in August, a jury found her guilty of perjury, obstruction, and other charges. She resigned a day later.

In her plea to the judge, Kane did not directly apologize for her crimes but rather for the consequences of her actions, saying she never intended to hurt anyone and was sorry if Pennsylvanians had lost trust in the Attorney General's Office.

But her appeal for house arrest was a personal one: A sentence sending a 50-year-old mother in the throes of a divorce to prison could devastate her sons, 14 and 15, she argued.

The older boy, Christopher, repeated the sentiment from the witness stand, telling the judge he wanted to testify "because maybe things weren't looking good and I decided I needed to help."

Through tears, he said: "I just wanted to say, my mom is like my rock. She is there for me for everything. For her to leave me, that would be ... it'd be bad."

Kane's lawyer, Marc R. Steinberg, said Kane's unprecedented fall from grace had been a punishment in itself.

"She stands a convicted felon subject to public shame and public humiliation," he said.

Steinberg also argued that Kane could be in danger behind bars, a prediction echoed by Frank V. DeAndrea Jr., a former Hazleton police chief, who raised the specter of drug gangs ordering a prison hit and told the judge incarceration could be a "death sentence" for the former prosecutor.

Demchick-Alloy retorted, "When you unfortunately dirty yourself with criminal behavior, you assume that risk."

Prosecutors had sought a stiff prison term, pointing to the impact of Kane's crimes and the office culture of fear and paranoia that developed under her tenure.

A former state prosecutor, Clarke Madden, testified that Kane's wrongdoings prompted the state police and the FBI to refuse to cooperate with her office, discouraged victims and witnesses from being helpful to their cases, and led judges and defense lawyers to subject prosecutors to sarcastic and sniggering remarks.

Madden, who left the Attorney General's Office last year, said the atmosphere under Kane became one of "abject demoralization that settled like a poison cloud over the office."

The poison began when Kane inherited an undercover investigation, begun three years before, that caught five legislators from Philadelphia and a Traffic Court judge on tape accepting money or gifts from a cooperating witness. Instead of prosecuting them or notifying ethics officials, Kane secretly shut down the case.

When the Inquirer broke the news of her decision months later, in early 2014, Kane blamed a former top state prosecutor, Frank Fina, who had supervised the sting. Then she sought revenge.

She surreptitiously passed the secret grand jury material to the Daily News to fuel a story she believed would reflect badly on Fina by suggesting that he, years earlier, had failed to aggressively pursue a criminal investigation into J. Whyatt Mondesire, a Philadelphia civil rights leader.

Mondesire, who was never charged with any crime, died last year.

In her presentation Monday, Kane told the judge: "I do feel for Mr. Mondesire . . . and I hate that his last days were anything but peaceful and happy."

In charging Kane in August 2015, Risa Vetri Ferman, then Montgomery County district attorney, said Kane had pursued her agenda "without regard to rules, without regard to the law, and without regard to collateral damage the battle might entail."

For her part, Kane cast herself as a victim of a "good ol' boys club" - an argument that gained steam after she discovered that her office's email servers had been a hub for the exchange of pornographic emails among prosecutors in her office and their friends elsewhere.

But when Kane sought to invoke the porn controversy as a defense in court, prosecutors denounced it as irrelevant to the charges against her. Demchick-Alloy, a Republican and a former prosecutor, barred mention of the issue at the trial. That was a ruling that Kane's lawyers have said would be part of any appeal.

Kane chose to not testify at the trial, and her defense lawyers called no witnesses, thinking they could prevail by poking holes in the government's witnesses. But the jury deliberated only 41/2 hours before convicting her of every charge - two felony counts of perjury and seven misdemeanor counts of charges including obstruction and official oppression.

After the sentencing Monday, Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele and fellow prosecutor Michelle Henry told reporters they were satisfied with the outcome.

"We suggest that is a significant sentence," Steele said. "Nobody is above the law."

cmccoy@phillynews.com215-854-4821@CraigRMcCoy