Philadelphia lawmakers charged with bribery waive preliminary hearing in Dauphin Co.

Posted 2:35 PM, January 22, 2015, by Melissa Nardo, Updated at 11:31PM, January 22, 2015

State Reps. Ron Waters and Vanessa Brown, both Democrats from Philadelphia, are among five officials caught on camera allegedly accepting bribes from an undercover agent in a sting operation.

They waived their right to a preliminary hearing on Thursday in front of Judge Michael J. Smith in Dauphin County.
“There is overwhelming evidence that these state representatives sold their offices, That they took money from a confidential informant, and that they promised to do certain things on his behalf,” said Mark Gilson, Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney.

The pair face several charges including bribery and conflict of interest. Gilson will prosecute the case. He says both representatives admitted to taking bribes in front of a grand jury. “The best evidence in the case is going to be the defendants’ own words, caught on tape, both audio tape and video tape. This is a simple prosecution. All you have to do is press play,” said Gilson.

Fortunato Perri, Jr. attorney for Ron Waters didn’t dispute that. “He’s admitted accepting money, but we have not made any decisions yet on how we are going to dispose of the case,” said Perri. “It’s a very difficult time in his life. I mean, he spent a great deal of his life in public service doing a lot of great things for the citizens of Philadelphia and his neighborhood. So this is a very difficult time for him.”

Neither attorney would comment on how their clients plan to plead and whether they expect the case to go to trial.

“When we get the evidence and discovery from the district attorney’s office we will review it and we will take the appropriate next step. I can tell you that there is a significant portion of this case that hasn’t been released yet and when that becomes available we will be happy to discuss it with you,” said Michael Diamondstein, attorney for Vanessa Brown.

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams took on the case after Attorney General Kathleen Kane (D) refused, claiming the investigation was flawed.

Gilson said Kane did not do her job. “There were people who passed judgment on this case saying it was dead on arrival and a half-assed investigation. I don’t think those people ever really bothered to listen to these tapes, or review any of the evidence. I’ve only been doing this 28 years myself. I wish all of my cases were this easy and this good,” said Gilson.

Gilson is an assistant district attorney in Philadelphia but has been sworn in as a special prosecutor in Dauphin County because a majority of the alleged crimes took place in Harrisburg. “A significant amount of the activity occurred in Harrisburg, and these are state representatives who sit in Harrisburg,” said Gilson.

Both Waters and Brown are scheduled for formal arraignments on April 3 at the Dauphin County Courthouse.