Secret (no more) 'Slush Fund' of the Centre County DA's Office

April 13, 2018 Centre Daily Times: How much did Centre County pay the DA's lawyer in 2017?

Background

In Pennsylvania state law allows law enforcement agencies to confiscate money, proceeds, and property from illegal activities such as the proceeds of drug money where it gets placed into a segregated bank account. . Use of this "slush fund money" by law enforcement agencies has largely been kept a tight-lipped secret. In 2015 a Right to Know Requester won this ruling at the Office of Open Records ("OOR"). The Centre County DA's Office, under the control of then-DA Stacy Parks Miller, challenged the OOR decision in the Centre County Court of Common Pleas. Several rounds of litigation occurred and the case was held in abeyance due to an unrelated matter. In November 2017 Parks Miller lost her bid for re-election and as new incoming District Attorney Bernie Cantorna was elected. Rather than continue the litigation that Parks Miller had started, on 2-28-18, Cantorna decided to substantively release the records that OOR had ordered released, and his Office dropped its Court challenge with a corresponding judicial Order on 3-7-18.

Forfeiture funds laws

District Attorney's Offices are not supposed to use these slush fund accounts for general operating expenses. DAs are supposed to have their general operating expenses paid for by their respective counties or cities whose expenses are subject to the transparency requirements of the Right to Know Law. Forfeiture funds limit what the confiscated money can be used for.

Related laws (searchable):

  • 4 Pa.C.S. § 1518 (relating to prohibited acts; penalties).
  • 18 Pa.C.S. § 910 (relating to manufacture, distribution, use or possession of devices for theft of telecommunications services).
  • 18 Pa.C.S. § 2717 (relating to terrorism).
  • 18 Pa.C.S. § 3141 (relating to general rule).
  • 18 Pa.C.S. § 4116 (relating to copying; recording devices).
  • 18 Pa.C.S. § 4119 (relating to trademark counterfeiting).
  • 18 Pa.C.S. § 5513 (relating to gambling devices, gambling, etc.).
  • 18 Pa.C.S. § 5707 (relating to seizure and forfeiture of electronic, mechanical or other devices).
  • 18 Pa.C.S. § 6501 (relating to scattering rubbish).
  • 18 Pa.C.S. § 7707 (relating to loss of property rights to Commonwealth).
  • 30 Pa.C.S. § 927 (relating to forfeiture of fish and devices).
  • 42 Pa. C.S. § 5803 (relating to controlled substances forfeiture).
  • 75 Pa.C.S. § 4909 (relating to transporting foodstuffs in vehicles used to transport waste).
  • 75 Pa.C.S. § 9405 (relating to forfeitures; process and procedures).

42 Pa. C.S. § 5803(g); Use of cash or proceeds of property:

"Cash or proceeds of property, subject to forfeiture under section 5802 and transferred to the custody of the district attorney under subsection (f) shall be placed in the operating fund of the county in which the district attorney is elected. The appropriate county authority shall immediately release from the operating fund, without restriction, a like amount for the use of the district attorney for the enforcement of or prevention of a violation of the provisions of The Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act. The funds shall be maintained in an account or accounts separate from other revenues of the office. The entity having budgetary control shall not anticipate future forfeitures or proceeds from future forfeitures in adoption and approval of the budget for the district attorney."

Slush Fund Information released by the Cantorna Administration (March 2018)

Feel free to download these records and analyze them. The released records contain interesting information about the forfeiture funds expenditures of the Centre County DA's Office during the tenure of ousted DA Stacy Parks Miller. As just one example, we see that Hotel and food invoices from then Special Assistant DA Bruce Castor of the law firm Rogers Castor were treated as billable to the slush fund account. This is curious because a BillyPenn news story from August 2016  reads:

In April 2015, Castor was hired by Parks Miller as a special assistant district attorney. He did additional work for the county that he said he is not charging for. “The rate would be not particularly high,” Castor said, “so my partner and I thought it was the public service to do that.”

Also, a 2016 Inquirer story reports that Castor's position as Special Assistant DA was "unpaid"

In all, a 58MB zip file was released. What you see linked below is all that information as it was released by the Cantorna administration:

$23,891.98 & $1,122.91 GOVERNMENT PAYMENTS TO ROGERS CASTOR LAW FIRM ON DECEMBER 29, 2017 ...STACY PARKS MILLER'S LAST (BUSINESS) DAY AS CENTRE COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY

Former DA Stacy Parks Miller was defeated for re-election in 2017. Her last (business) day in office was December 29, 2017. On this day her assistant DA Mark Smith cut a check for $23,891.74 from the slush fund account, payable to the law firm of Rogers Castor, for what is written as "...LEGAL SERV AND EXPENSES". and a separate check for $1,122.91 was cut too. This, on the same day that (then) DA Parks Miller issued another Right to Know Law denial letter for forfeiture funds records!

CASTOR WORE ANOTHER 'HAT' FOR KATHLEEN KANE

Before former Attorney General Kathleen Kane became a convicted criminal (but after she had her law license suspended) she appointed Bruce Castor to the position of Solicitor General. The appointment and implementation letters are RTKL public records of the Office of Attorney General.  In paragraph 6 of the (2016) "Implementation" letter Kane said Castor "shall accept no additional compensation for work performed as a temporary assistant district attorney in Centre County after March 21, 2016."