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Politics & Government

When it comes to state Senate, silence from the AG’s office

As state attorney general, Gov. Corbett's investigations into the state House netted dozens of prosecutions. Last week, the charges filed by federal prosecutors against former Democratic state Sen. Bob Mellow brought the total of state Senators prosecuted for public corruption to three. But those charges aren't coming from the state attorney general's office, raising questions about the fate of the sweeping investigation Corbett once headed up.

"At this point there is no good answer," said Terry Madonna, pollster and political scientist at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster County. "There is just no certainty that a) an investigation is underway, and even if there were, that it would lead to any prosecutions."

The attorney general's office declined to comment. That doesn't mean that the questions stop coming.

"I think it's fair to ask why the attorney general, or the local district attorney, got beat to the punch by the feds," said former Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy, of Bucks County, one of two Democratic candidates vying for the state's top prosecutor.

Others say that's quite a leap in reasoning. "I've been involved in many cases where multiple agencies may have been contacted [for an investigation]," said Dave Freed, Cumberland County District Attorney and Republican candidate for attorney general. He said the charges being handed down by federal and local prosecutors don't preclude state involvement. "If one starts, there's no need to duplicate the investigation. It comes down to a use of resources."

Kathleen Kane, Democratic candidate and former prosecutor from Lackawanna County, said she supports legislation that would bar Attorney Generals from seeking higher office – so there's no speculation about whether investigations are politically motivated.

"I think that's the problem when you have attorney generals that are openly seeking higher office. I think it colors their ability to prosecute political corruption cases," said Kane. "Now, we don't know if that's happening in the attorney general's office because we don't know whether they are continuing to investigate in the Senate."

The investigation spearheaded by then-Attorney General Corbett into the state Legislature was unprecedented – in no small part because the chief prosecutor's office was an appointed position until 1980.

The probe Corbett led was historic, then, and the understanding was that it would continue even after he ascended to the governor's office. The governor's spokesman, Kevin Harley, said the attorney general's office followed the corruption investigations wherever they led.

"I can't comment on what may or may not be going on in the attorney general's office now," Harley said, "because we're not there."