A senior official in former Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration has been charged with allegedly diverting more than $250,000 in taxpayer dollars to fund her lavish lifestyle of vacations, hotel stays, fine dinners and Uber rides, and to repay her debts, according to authorities.
Desiree Peterkin-Bell was charged Tuesday with conflict of interest, tampering with public records, and various counts of felony and misdemeanor offenses associated with her misuse and misappropriation of those funds during her time serving as city representative between January 2013 and December 2015 in the Nutter Administration, according to Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s Office.
The charges come on the heels of an investigation and grand jury presentment into alleged fraudulent charges she made totaling more than $20,000 on two credit cards belonging to the city-related, nonprofit Fund for Philadelphia over three years, according to the attorney general’s office.
In addition, Peterkin-Bell allegedly mismanaged approximately $225,000 in public dollars designated explicitly for the Philadelphia International Cycling Classic bike race in order to cover unrelated debts, according to the attorney general’s office.
“This is a case of a high ranking public official — who was charged with the stewardship and safe-keeping of taxpayer money — using the resources of her office to enrich herself and abuse the public trust,” Shapiro said in a released statement.
The allegations around Peterkin-Bell have been swirling since a 2016 City Controller’s audit of a fund tied to then-Mayor Nutter. At the time, Nutter vigorously defended Peterkin-Bell.
According to the attorney general’s office, Peterkin-Bell allegedly used the two city credit cards to pay for personal hotel stays, train tickets and flights for vacations in Orlando, Florida; Newport News, Virginia; Brooklyn; special events at the White House; and a wedding anniversary in Portland, Oregon.
In addition, Peterkin-Bell allegedly used the credit cards to bankroll Uber rides for herself, her daughter and her family babysitter; pay for restaurants and bar tabs at places that included McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood & Steaks in Center City; and fund her clothing purchases, among other things, according to the attorney general’s office.
In one instance near the end of Nutter’s term in December 2015, Peterkin-Bell allegedly ordered staff members at the Fund for Philadelphia to supply a hotel with a credit card from the organization to pay $1,699 for a dinner party at the hotel that she held to help launch her future consulting business, according to the attorney general’s office. The party featured 17 plated dinners, a wine menu, and a dedicated bartender, according to the attorney general’s office.
When asked for documentation or receipts related to the expenditures tied to the two city-owned credit cards, Peterkin-Bell allegedly refused or made representations that they were “work-related,” according to the attorney general’s office.
In a separate instance, Peterkin-Bell misused city funds to pay for a debt incurred by the Fund for Philadelphia and to cover unrelated costs for a different city event, according to the attorney general’s office.
In 2014, the Fund for Philadelphia maintained the possession of approximately $225,000 in funds associated with the Philadelphia International Cycling Classic bike race, according to the attorney general’s office. Those funds were prohibited from being used for anything other than costs associated with the race.
That same year, Peterkin-Bell allegedly entered the Fund for Philadelphia into a contract with Forbes in connection with the latter’s 30 Under 30 event, but she did so without the knowledge of the fund’s board of directors, according to the attorney general’s office.
Peterkin-Bell used $200,000 in funds dedicated for the Philadelphia International Cycling Classic bike race for the Forbes contract, according to the attorney general’s office. She also allegedly negotiated with Forbes to reduce the Fund for Philadelphia’s debt and directed employees to create false sponsorship agreements with the Philadelphia Marathon and the Philadelphia International Cycling Class in an attempt to legitimize the misuse of the money for the Forbes event.
Then in 2015, Peterkin-Bell was serving as the chairperson for the nonprofit Welcome America Inc., which organizes the annual Independence Day festival. That’s when she allegedly directed $25,000 of the money from the bike race to be moved to Welcome America because Welcome America had not finalized enough sponsorships to cover the cost of the event, according to the attorney general’s office.
The attorney general’s office alleges Peterkin-Bell gave the money to Welcome America under the guise of a sponsorship, but the bike race received no benefits.
A witness testified that a sponsorship invoice was created after the fact at Peterkin-Bell’s direction in an attempt to conceal the misuse of funds, according to the attorney general’s office.
Peterkin-Bell was processed in Philadelphia Tuesday and is expected to be released.