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March 14, 2014 | By | Posted in WatchBlog

Former staffers play key part in corruption charges against lawmaker

By Andrew Staub | PA Independent

Sean McCray knew state Sen. LeAnna Washington was wrong to turn her taxpayer-funded employees into de facto campaign staffers, according to court records, but he quickly learned he couldn’t persuade her to stop.

“I am the f—— senator, I do what the f— I want, how I want, and ain’t nobody going to change me. I have been doing it like this for 17 years. So stop trying to change me,” Washington, D-Philadelphia, told McCray after he confronted her about the problems, according to a grand jury report released this week.

The 30-page court document — which forms the foundation of two felony corruption charges filed against Washington — provided a window into the inner-workings of Washington’s office. It paints an unflattering picture, alleging she ruled with an “iron fist,” verbally abused employees and punished people who disagreed with her decision to use her Senate staff as de facto campaign workers.

CHARGED: A grand jury alleged that Pennsylvania state Sen. LeAnna Washington used taxpayer resources for political purposes.

CHARGED: A grand jury alleged that Pennsylvania state Sen. LeAnna Washington used taxpayer resources for political purposes.

Those same staffers, some driven away by Washington’s heavy-handed approach, eventually provided testimony that led the grand jury to recommend Attorney General Kathleen Kane file criminal charges against the lawmaker. She’s accused of using thousands of dollars of taxpayer money to organize an annual birthday gala that doubled as a campaign fundraiser.

At one point, Washington told McCray she would change the practice, yet they continued; she even hid the activities from him, according to the grand jury. She also cut his pay by $10,000 and fired him in February, the report said.

McCray never persuaded Washington to change, but he did take steps to stop the practice. He provided information about the campaign work to Montgomery County law enforcement officials and kept in contact after a detective was assigned to the case in January 2013, according to the grand jury.

Others left on their own volition.

Denise Savage, who was chief of staff before McCray, resigned in 2010. She testified Washington held all decision-making power in the office and said she had to talk to the senator before addressing tardy employees, according to the report.

Though Washington tasked Savage with organizing the fundraiser, she micro managed that, too, choosing everything from the theme to the color of the napkins and requiring as many as six drafts of the invitation before giving a final OK, according to the presentment.

Washington’s attorney told the Philadelphia Inquirer the lawmaker will contest the “thin and specious” allegations. But according to information in the grand jury report, she wasn’t as confident when talking to Jamila Hall, a former employee who helped with the party and left in October 2012, citing the verbal abuse that had already contributed to high employee turnover.

Hall allowed investigators from the Attorney General’s Office to record a telephone conversation between herself and Washington. In that call, Hall asked the state senator what she should say if authorities asked about the political work.

Washington said she could say they didn’t do political work, but even she seemed to realize she might be following her aggrieved employees out the door.

“You know,” she said, according to the presentment, “I’m so angry because um, um, I don’t know. It’s just a bad place to be so I’ll probably have to resign.”

Andrew Staub is a reporter for PA Independent and can be reached at Andrew@PAIndependent.com. Follow @PAIndependent on Twitter for more.

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