February 28, 2006
Attorney General Corbett announces formation of Public Corruption Unit
HARRISBURG - Attorney General Tom Corbett today announced the formation of a Public Corruption Unit within the Attorney General's Office. The unit is designed to primarily combat corruption through the prosecution of elected officials and government employees.
Corbett has assigned seven seasoned prosecutors to the unit who will be specially designated to investigate and prosecute public corruption cases.
Corbett said, "By creating a Public Corruption Unit, the Attorney General's Office is putting a spotlight on investigating and prosecuting public corruption cases at a crucial time in our state's history when slot machines and casino gaming is about to become reality."
Corbett noted that the Pennsylvania Legislature created an elected, independent Attorney General's Office in 1978, in part, as the reaction to the abuse of power and widespread public corruption in the Shapp administration.
Corbett said in 1978, the General Assembly's Joint State Government Commission on the Office of the elected Attorney General said that it was giving specific authority to the office to implement the intentions of the electorate that the Attorney General function as a "watchdog" of State Government to prevent official corruption. Additionally the Investigating Grand Jury Act tasks only the Attorney General with the responsibility for investigating multi-county public corruption.
Corbett, who prior to being elected Attorney General, was a former United States Attorney in the Western District of Pennsylvania, said, "Just as the United States Department of Justice has a Public Integrity Section, with a specific mission of fighting corruption at the federal level, I believe the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office should have a Public Corruption Section to combat public corruption."
Corbett said the Attorney General's Office presently investigates and prosecutes public corruption cases through its Criminal Prosecutions Section. However, by creating a special unit, with seasoned prosecutors assigned specifically to public corruption cases, he believes that the efficiency and effectiveness in which these cases are prosecuted will be improved.
Corbett said that when a public corruption case is opened, it will be assigned to one of the seven prosecutors in the unit. These prosecutors will give the cases the highest priority and ensure that they are thoroughly investigated in a timely manner.
Corbett said that two of the prosecutors will be assigned in the Philadelphia region, two in the Harrisburg region and two in the Pittsburgh region with a chief in Harrisburg.
Corbett said conflict of interest referrals from district attorneys regarding allegations of public corruption of county and municipal officials, including local law enforcement officials, will also be assigned to the prosecutors in the Public Corruption Unit.
Referrals from the State Ethics Commission that involve allegations of public corruption will be assigned to the unit. Additionally, serious allegations of election law violations will be prosecuted by the unit.
Corbett also urged the General Assembly to pass pending legislation which would give the Attorney General's Office concurrent jurisdiction on gaming. He noted that gaming investigations, which often involve public corruption, will be assigned to the prosecutors in the Public Corruption Unit.
Corbett said that many of the lawyers in this section are currently involved in public corruption cases. He noted that the office recently won a conviction of State Representative Jeff Habay and that the trial for the former Mayor of Erie is scheduled to begin on March 13.
Below is a list of the prosecutors assigned to the Public Corruption Unit and a brief biography on each of them:
Chief Deputy Attorney Frank Fina, Harrisburg Office
Fina, who will be the chief of the Public Corruption Section, has been an attorney since 1992. He is a former federal prosecutor with the United States Department of Justice Inspector General's Office and with the United States Attorney's Office in the District of Columbia. He also served as an Assistant District Attorney in Union County.
Fina joined the Attorney General's Office in 2003 and worked in the Appeals and Legal Services Section prior to being named chief of the Criminal Prosecution Section by Corbett in 2005.
Senior Deputy Attorney General E. Marc Costanzo, Norristown Office
Costanzo has been a lawyer since 1984. He joined the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office in 1987 and rose through the ranks to the Homicide Unit. While in the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office he tried more than 90 jury and 1,000 bench trials.
Costanzo joined the Attorney General's Office in 1993 and has prosecuted a wide variety of cases, such as homicides, economic crimes and public corruption, including the Second State Senatorial Election in Philadelphia.
Senior Deputy Attorney General Patrick J. Blessington, Norristown Office
Blessington has been a lawyer since 1983 and joined the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office in 1986, where he investigated and prosecuted cases in Municipal Court, Juvenile, Juvenile Habitual Offender, Major Trial, Career Criminal, Narcotics, and Homicide Units.
In 1997, Blessington joined the Attorney General's Office and has been involved in the investigation and prosecution of cases involving murder, economic crimes, political corruption, and various other offenses.
Among the public corruption cases he prosecuted are Lebanon County District Justices Betty Ann Smith and Michael Smith; Craig Cummons; Philadelphia Election of Judges; 7th Ward; Francis Eagen; Jonathon Saidel/Diana Roca; Barbara Landers and Philadelphia Election Case involving Michael Stack.
Senior Deputy Attorney General Jonelle Harter Eshbach, Harrisburg Office
Eshbach began her career as a prosecutor in the York County District Attorney's Office where she rose to the position of First Deputy. During her nearly 12 years in the York District Attorney's Office, from 1988 to 2000, she handled criminal trials and appeals and prosecuted many murder cases, including such capital murders as the Route 30 double homicide of two Harley-Davidson employees.
Eshbach joined the Attorney General's Capital Litigation Unit in July of 2000, specializing in capital appeals. She has handled the capital appeal of Luzerne County mass murderer George Banks, and other capital murderers such as York County's Hubert Michael and Daniel Jacobs, Lancaster County's Robert Zook and Lebanon County's Freeman May, as well as many others throughout Pennsylvania state and federal courts.
Eshbach returned to trial work in September 2005 and is currently involved in a number of criminal and ethics prosecutions of public officials.
Deputy Attorney General James Reeder, Harrisburg Office
Prior to becoming an attorney in 1995, Reeder worked in the banking and educational fields. He was a prosecutor in the York County District Attorney's Office for eight years and joined the Attorney General's Office last year. He is currently involved in a number of criminal and ethics prosecutions of public officials, including the two employees of the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas.
Senior Deputy Attorney General Anthony J. Krastek, Pittsburgh Office
Krastek has been an attorney since 1979 and was a Deputy District Attorney in Allegheny County, where he supervised the Crimes Against Persons Unit and specialized in the prosecution of homicide, sex offenses and child abuse cases.
He joined the Attorney General's Office in 1997 and has successfully prosecuted a contracted health care provider at several State Correctional Institutions who over-billed the Department of Corrections by $400,000. He has won convictions against the former Executive Deputy Commissioner for the Department of Corrections, a local tax collector and several police officials for misusing their public positions. In December, 2005, he obtained a jury conviction against six-term incumbent State Representative Habay for violating the State Ethics Act.
Senior Deputy Attorney General Margaret Cassidy, Pittsburgh Office
Cassidy has been a prosecutor for 12 years and began her career in the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office where she was assigned to the Crimes Against Persons Unit which was responsible for handling homicides and sexual assaults.
Cassidy joined the Attorney General's Office in 2001 and has successfully prosecuted a McKean County Commissioner for Election Code violations as well as a Fayette County police officer for official oppression. Currently she is prosecuting the former mayor of Erie, Pennsylvania and his colleagues for public corruption.