State Attorney General Kathleen Kane seems fearless as she prosecutes one-time political warlord Bob Mellow. But only she can reveal her deepest concerns as she takes on the former state senator who for decades wielded political power with ruthless and reckless abandon.
Kane wasn’t always so bold.
Pennsylvania’s first elected Democrat and female attorney general once knelt before the altar of Mellow’s vast government empire. Desperately wanting him to know that she posed no risk to his power or his job, she one day met privately and humbly with the Northeastern Pennsylvania king of corruption. Kane needed to reassure him that she meant no harm and no threat.
Kane told some people about the secret meeting, although she didn’t see fit to tell most of her supporters who wanted her to challenge Mellow in 2010 for his Senate seat. Instead, she backed off, cried real tears and confessed her humiliation to a select few, explaining the sad and embarrassing story of family pressure and fear that Mellow might retaliate.
Kane has never publicly revealed details of that meeting with Mellow.
Now, as Mellow sits in prison after pleading guilty to federal public corruption charges, political observers wonder if he might launch a surprise attack against her credibility as she preens as the state’s newest crime fighter who vows a continuing crackdown on public corruption.
Sources say they felt sorry for Kane back then as she betrayed herself by sacrificing a personal dream based on principle against a man who had none.
The secret meeting took place in the months before Mellow decided to retire from the seat he held in government for almost 40 years, where he served as one of Pennsylvania’s most powerful politicians. That meeting, long before Mellow got indicted and pleaded guilty to political corruption, clearly spelled out that Kane wanted no trouble for herself and the family business, that she unquestioningly accepted Mellow’s reign and would do nothing to challenge it. The meeting halted her political aspirations long before she last year succeeded in her bid for attorney general.
But there was a time, when Mellow ruled as king, that Kane wanted nothing more than to take his jop as senator. I joined supporters who encouraged her to run. One night I met with a small group of people at a Scranton bar to discuss Kane’s brave political plan. Kane sat beside her twin sister as we strategized and eventually toasted her success. Kane was in. The commitment to the campaign was on. Kane vowed to win.
Not long after the barroom meeting, I attended a party where between 70 and 100 people expressed their unwavering support for Kane in her bid to do the unthinkable – challenge and beat Bob Mellow. But something seemed wrong that night. Kane showed up late, stood close to her father and seemed distracted.
A source says he believes she had already met with Mellow and was just going through the motions, not having the heart to tell the cheering crowd that she had agreed to lose even before the official campaign had begun.
Soon after, Kane’s dream suddenly and mysteriously died.
Kane privately told some people what happened.
He husband’s side of the family was livid when they heard about her plan, she said. The Kane family runs a trucking company that since 1990 has handled one of the biggest state contracts for hauling and storing liquor for the state store system. Kane family members expressed anger and fear that her challenge could backfire and hurt the family business, maybe even cause them to lose the multi-million dollar contract. So Kane bowed to their wishes and agreed to quit. So serious were the concerns that she also decided to personally tell Mellow she had changed her mind and would not cause him any reason for concern.
Little did she or he know then what fate had in store for them both.
And now here we are, in a dangerous position where Kane should disclose details to Mellow’s defense team as well as to her own prosecutors who need to prepare for any curve that Mellow and company might throw. Critics say Mellow, who, if convicted on state charges, could spent the rest of his life in state prison, is capable of anything. This is the same man who, during his federal sentencig hearing, allowed the same lawyers he’s using today to manipulate his disabled daughter’s physical and mental condition as a ploy to get the federal judge to take pity on their admitted criminal client.
I do not know who called secret meeting, where exactly it occurred or what exactly was discussed. I don’t know if anyone else sat in on the meeting, noted it in a report or calendar or whether the meeting was recorded.
I do know that by keeping quiet about details of the meeting Kane is putting herself and the current prosecution in a vulnerable position. A former high-profile prosecutor recently told me that seriously legitimate questions abound in the secrecy surrounding the meeting.
Did Kane and Mellow discuss the Kane family trucking business and the state contract? Did Kane or her family members ever make cash campaign contributions to Mellow or attend his famous annual clambake? Did Mellow refer job applicants to the trucking company? Did Kane’s and Mellow’s deep Democratic Party connections play any role in the Kane family keeping the contract?
Last year, according to an Associated Press report, the trucking company pulled in $12.8 million as a result of the contract that is scheduled to expire next year and be put out for bid.
The secret meeting might not matter if Kane had simply disappeared like so many other political losers who turned and ran when Bob Mellow cast his gaze their way. Instead, Kane suddenly reappeared on the political scene and hurtled toward the pinnacle of success.
Kane, through her press office, has failed to respond to my requests for an interview or an explanation about the meeting with Mellow. As long as she hides, the more she risks her credibility as well as the cause of truth, justice and her recently vowed mission to fight corruption.
Frail and feeble as he is, Mellow might have one last dirty trick up his sleeve.
Let’s hope he doesn’t play it on Kane.
And let’s hope Kane doesn’t play one on the good people of the Commonwealth who place faith in her promise to restore the public trust in a state gone toxic with corruption.