PITTSBURGH – A 72-year-old Pennsylvania prosecutor obstructed justice and misused the power of his office by improperly intervening in criminal cases involving his 39-year-old heroin-using girlfriend, who is now in state prison on a check-forgery case, a state grand jury found.
The finding led the attorney general's office to filed 17 charges late Thursday against Mercer County District Attorney Miles Karson. They include nine obstruction counts and six charging misuse of government powers.
Karson, a Republican, was elected in 2015 in the largely rural county 60 miles (96.6 kilometers) north of Pittsburgh that borders Ohio.
Karson's defense attorney, Alexander Lindsay Jr., didn't immediately respond to messages seeking comment Friday. But he told WTAE-TV that the investigation is "obviously politically charged, which makes us look at it, shall we say, more carefully."
Among other things, the grand jury found Karson asked the woman's probation officer last year to not put her in jail after she acknowledged using heroin and would fail a drug test. He also allegedly tried to get two different judges to release her on bond instead of jailing her in separate criminal cases by claiming to be a family friend when he actually was her boyfriend.
The requests were "made at a point in time when the defendant was in a romantic relationship" with the woman, which means Karson "had a conflict of interest in her criminal cases," the criminal complaint said.
"The details of this investigation are disturbing," Attorney General Josh Shapiro said Friday. "No one is above the law — whether it's a drug dealer on the street corner or an elected public official."
Karson is charged with contacting the Farrell police chief, asking him to recommend a low bail amount to keep the woman out of jail after she was charged last year with forging more than $30,000 in checks. The checks allegedly were taken from her former employer with the help of another man — not Karson — that police also described as her "boyfriend."
Karson allegedly interfered in a child custody battle involving the other boyfriend's biological child, telling an attorney involved that the man was the target of an active heroin investigation, when that wasn't true, the complaint said.
Karson's alleged lover pleaded guilty in March and is now serving one to two years in prison, her attorney, Stanley Booker said Friday. He declined to comment on the woman's connections to Karson or her role in the charges against Karson.
Before the woman's guilty plea, Karson had asked the attorney general to prosecute the case against the woman because he had a conflict of interest.
Karson told The Sharon Herald newspaper that he'd known the woman's family for years and that she worked on his political campaign. As a result, Karson acknowledged calling the local district judge in the case trying to get the woman released on bail, and he self-reported his conduct to the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. It wasn't immediately clear if Karson was ever disciplined as a result.
Karson also is accused of showing up at traffic accidents involving the woman in January and March during which police said she appeared to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Karson allegedly chauffeured the woman from both scenes, preventing police from investigating or testing the woman's sobriety, the complaint said.
Karson isn't being arrested. He was mailed a court summons for a Dec. 18 preliminary hearing.