Three Pennsylvania state representatives serving Philadelphia have been indicted on charges they accepted bribes from a lobbyist working as an undercover state informant.
Democratic Reps. Louise Bishop and Michelle Brownlee and former Rep. Harold James surrendered Tuesday in Harrisburg to be arraigned on Bribery charges and related offenses, according to Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams.
"All three are charged with accepting illegal cash payments in exchange for agreeing to peddle their influence," Williams said.
The motivation, Williams said, was to help boost low balances in the lawmakers' political campaigns. Audio recordings allegedly captured the conversations setting up exchanges ranging in amounts from $500 and $2,000.
Brownlee and James have admitted to wrongdoing while Bishop has denied her role, according to Williams. An attorney for James had no comment. Calls to attorneys for Brownlee and Bishop were not returned.
Bishop, a reverend who hosts a gospel radio show on WURD-AM and whose daughter grew up with the district attorney, offered the lobbyist help in gaining influence in the state liquor control committee.
"Bishop assured the lobbyist that several representatives would be lined up to support him, including Brownlee ...," Williams said.
The district attorney said Bishop had the chance to "set the record straight," but refused to answer the grand jury's questions.
Citing his personal relationship with Bishop and her family, Williams said there are "no free passes."
Breaking news and the stories that matter to your neighborhood.
Last year, NBC10 learned Bishop and Brownlee along with two other representatives were targeted in the sting executed by the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office. Those lawmakers, Pa. Reps. Ron Waters and Vanessa Lowery Brown, were already charged with bribery and face trial in Harrisburg. A former Philadelphia Traffic Court judge, Thomasine Tynes, was also charged and pleaded guilty.
Williams swore in a grand jury to investigate the case last summer. The DA office's Public Corruption Task Force has been leading the investigation with the assistance of Pennsylvania State Police.
His office took over the case after Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane chose not to move forward with the probe calling it flawed and racist. It was begun under the purview of her predecessor, former AG and Gov. Tom Corbett.
Firing back at Kane on Tuesday, Williams said his office was dragged into the case and that he took offense to the notion that the investigation was racist.
"She is her own worst enemy," he said of Kane. "I am insulted when someone would allege something is racist when it isn’t."
Williams couldn't say if the grand jury would bring forth charges against others.
While audio recordings captured six lawmakers allegedly agreeing to take a bribe, a number of other current and former state representatives turned down offers from the undercover informant.
They included U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, a former state representative, Rep. Curtis Thomas and former state Rep. Tony Payton, Williams said.