Attorney General Josh Shapiro touts the work done by his office since taking over in 2017.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro took over an office under a very dark cloud in January 2017 following the conviction of his predecessor, Kathleen Kane, a few months earlier.
“We’ve worked really hard to rebuild the office,” Shapiro told The Times last week during a visit to the Pittsburgh area. “We’ve got the strongest, smartest and, certainly, the most diverse staff in the history of the office.”
Kane, once a rising star in Democratic politics, resigned in August 2016 after she was convicted on perjury, conspiracy and obstruction of justice charges. She entered prison in November 2018 and was released this past July.
“The hill to climb on rebuilding was steeper than I thought,” Shapiro, a Democrat, said over coffee at Panera Bread in North Fayette Township on Nov. 12.
Kane’s saga roiled Harrisburg for years and spawned that dark cloud over the attorney general’s office. Shapiro admitted that he was not immune from having a lesser opinion of those who worked there under Kane, but it’s a feeling that changed once he took the reins and got to know them.
“I was really wrong about some of the people that work there. I think I cast them unfairly with a broad brush,” said Shapiro, who acknowledged later learning that most were hardworking, honest public servants, “who needed leadership and who needed empowerment.”
Shapiro said he has apologized to those he made assumptions about.
Since assuming control, Shapiro said he has brought more women on board to diversify the office, created the first chief integrity officer role and ordered more ethics training for employees, all in an effort to make the attorney general’s office “the premier law enforcement agency in Pennsylvania.”
Describing himself as a “very data-driven guy,” Shapiro ticked off several statistics reflecting the work that his office has been doing over the last nearly three years, such as case referrals from local district attorneys increasing by 39 percent.
That rise, Shapiro said, “demonstrates that they know that we know what we’re doing.”
On the opioid front, Shapiro said his office arrests on average five dealers a day and made 548 prescription fraud arrests.
Shapiro has also gone after pharmaceutical companies for their role in perpetuating the opioid epidemic. In October, he joined with three other state attorneys general to propose a $48 billion global settlement with five large pharmaceutical companies involved in the opioid crisis.
Once that money is released to Pennsylvania, Shapiro said he wants all of it to go to “treatment and related services” for opioid addiction.
Shapiro said he has also launched a diversion unit that targets legal prescription drugs that find their way to the black market through physicians and nurses. Those arrests are up 61 percent, he said.
There are several attorney general drug task forces working around the state that have made 6,300 arrests since he took over, Shapiro said. Beaver County District David Lozier has said his office’s work on such task forces along with Shapiro’s office and other agencies has been vital to tackling the flow of drugs, especially opioids, into the county.
According to Shapiro’s office, his agents have charged 22 people for selling drugs such as heroin and cocaine in Beaver County. Shapiro’s Office of Public Engagement has also given 57 presentations to nearly 7,700 people in the county, including 2,233 students and faculty in local schools.
Methamphetamine is making a comeback, Shapiro warned, moving from Erie toward southwestern and central Pennsylvania. “It is dramatically expanding,” he said, calling the drug “very dangerous” to manufacture and to use.
Shapiro has not shied away from controversy, releasing a bombshell report on sexual abuse by Catholic priests and continuing to pursue cases. “When you think about where we are in unearthing the abuse in the Catholic Church, I think you’re probably in the third or fourth inning,” he said. “That’s how much more there is to come.”
His office has also pursued child sex abuse and pornography cases that have ensnared fellow law enforcement officials and, most recently, a state senator from Lebanon County.
“We’re holding everyone accountable when they prey on a child,” Shapiro said, offering that his office has made 319 child predator arrests.
For consumers, Shapiro said he has taken on large corporations, such as Google, Equifax and Facebook, and gotten $51 million for students of for-profit colleges that closed unexpectedly and $15 million for residents who were ripped off by home improvement businesses that did not do the work promised.
In Beaver County, Shapiro’s office said he has sued Vision Properties for a rent-to-own housing scheme that victimized some county residents, reached a $100,000 settlement with the Aptive pest control company for deceptive business practices that included the county and sued Stahl Brothers Plumbing for defrauding consumers, some in the county.
His office’s outreach efforts have connected with 564,000 Pennsylvanians, many of them seniors who need to hear about scams targeting them.
There have also been 59 public corruption arrests by his office, but Shapiro hinted that they are far from done. “All I can tell you is stay tuned because there’s a lot more to come,” he said.
With a hefty resume as attorney general and political experience, he was a state representative and a Montgomery County commissioner, Shapiro is often touted as a Democratic hopeful for higher office, particularly the governor’s seat in 2022.
Asked about his political future, Shapiro jokingly chided a reporter for bringing it up. “We’re pretty busy here,” he said. “I’m focused on doing my job.”