When former city treasurer Corey Kemp and former state Sen. Vincent Fumo ended up in federal court, both were facing charges of public corruption among the other related accusations.
Now, by providing an anonymous tip line, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is trying to make it easier for the public to report suspected corrupt city officials, employees and private citizens who misuse their positions for personal gain.
“Public corruption is the number one priority for the FBI in Philadelphia,” said Special Agent-in-Charge George Venizelos in announcing the initiative. “Public corruption abuses the public’s trust and undermines government operations. The public itself is the most effective tool we have in rooting out corruption, and in the past multiple tips have led to numerous investigations and convictions of public officials and legislators. This joint program seeks to disrupt the culture of pay-to-play, where private individuals seek to gain unfair advantage when it comes to bidding on city contracts or obtaining government grants.”
The new tip line is 1-855-FBI-TIPS. United States Attorney Zane Memeger said the joint effort will help ensure that city officials and employees perform their jobs honestly. Memeger, whose office recently successfully prosecuted and convicted Fumo, said the public’s trust in government is eroded by corrupt officials. The hotline is a coordinated effort involving the U.S. attorney's office, the FBI, the state attorney general's office, city government, and the Philadelphia Police Department.
“Rule breakers need to be targeted, and the public’s tips are greatly appreciated,” Memeger said. “Over the past few years, my department has investigated and charged numerous city employees, officials and private citizens seeking to gain advantage in soliciting city business. This is a very important tool, because when there’s corruption, the government fails.”
Two high-profile cases of public corruption in Philadelphia were those of Kemp and Fumo. Fumo was indicted in 2007, accused of obstruction of justice, conspiring to defraud the Pennsylvania Senate, the Citizens Alliance for Better Neighborhoods and the Independence Seaport Museum of $3 million. Federal investigators also alleged that he used his state employees for personal jobs. In March 2009 he was found guilty of 137 counts and sentenced to 55 months in federal prison.
Kemp was the city treasurer in Mayor John Street’s administration. Federal prosecutors said he misused his position to funnel profitable city contracts to now-deceased attorney Ron White. Kemp was accused of having received sports tickets, free trips and cash from people seeking to conduct business with the city. He was convicted in 2005 on 27 charges of honest services fraud, extortion, mail fraud and filing false tax returns. He is serving a 10-year sentence in s federal penitentiary.
“Public corruption is a huge problem,” said Pennsylvania Inspector General Kenya Mann Faulkner. “There are many who are doing the right thing, and the few people who are not, we plan to catch them and make them accountable. We’ll follow complaints of corruption wherever they go. All complaints will be followed and investigated.”
Philadelphia Inspector General Amy Kurland saidin a recent case a private businessman seeking a contract with the city offered a $5,000 bribe to several city employees. The employees reported the bribe and the businessman, whose name was not released, was prosecuted. Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly said public corruption is not new and neither is the idea of a joint task force. The tip line is another tool to help bolster the public’s confidence that information will be taken seriously.
"We need help from the public," Kelly said. "No one is above the law. This is not a new idea; it’s been around for at least a decade. Our own department established an office to take tips and follow up with investigations. We’ve gotten many convictions and that’s what our citizens should expect. We need the public’s help and I want to encourage our citizens to report suspected corruption.”