Federal agents are being very tight-lipped about what they were looking for when they descended into the offices of the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office last Thursday morning.
FBI agents seized computers and documents during their unannounced visit, and although FBI spokesperson Carrie Adamowski confirmed that government agents were there, she pleasantly declined to offer any further details. Joseph Blake, a spokesman for Sheriff Jewell Williams, released a statement saying the office was cooperating with the investigation.
“As part of an ongoing investigation begun in the previous administrations, the FBI arrived at the sheriff’s office at 100 South Broad [Thursday morning] with a search warrant and subpoena for certain records and files,” the statement read. “The agents were given the full cooperation of the Office of the Sheriff of Philadelphia City and County. Because of the nature of the ongoing investigation there will be no further comments at this time.”
The Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office has been the target of multiple federal investigations that followed an exhaustive financial examination by City Controller Alan Butkovitz in 2011. The investigations began in the administration of former Sheriff John Green. Green stepped down in 2011 after Butkovitz’ people uncovered millions in suspicious financial dealings and turned their findings over to the U.S. Attorney’s office.
“Sheriff John Green abandoned his responsibility to protect the public interest. He disgraced his office by allowing private parties to improperly benefit financially at the expense of the most vulnerable — those who lost their homes,” Butkovitz said in a previous interview. “The victims were real people – real families who had hit financial bottom and could no longer afford to keep their homes.”
According to Butkovitz’ investigation, from 2006 through 2010, the Sheriff’s Office conducted over 61,500 property sales through the Sheriff’s Office Real Estate Division. Crystal Stewart, wife of Darrell Stewart, Supervisor of the unit, was the Director of the Real Estate Division during the time. She is also the sister of James Davis, Jr., owner of both Reach Communication Specialists, Inc. and RCS Searchers, Inc.
The investigation uncovered two almost identical but different signed contracts for Reach to provide advertising services. One allowed a 15 percent commission for Reach – the other allows for a commission based on a 2.9 lines per writ, plus one line to cover production costs in one newspaper.”
“When you examine both contracts, Reach/RCS either overcharged the Sheriff’s Office $7.4 million under the 15 percent commission contract, or $11.6 million under the ‘2.9 line per writ’ contract,” said Butkovitz.
Since Green stepped down, a number of people employed by or connected to the Sheriff’s office have either been convicted or pleaded guilty in federal court. Richard Bell, a former accounting clerk in the Sheriff’s Office was the alleged brains behind a fraudulent check writing scheme. In November 2011, charges were filed against Bell, Robert Rogers and Jackiem Wright. Each was charged with one count of wire fraud and Bell was additionally charged with willfully filing a false income tax return.Federal prosecutors allege that between 2007 and 2010, Bell wrote fraudulent checks drawn on bank accounts of the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office to unauthorized individuals and companies. Bell allegedly forwarded over $400,000 of those checks to Rogers, who allegedly cashed them and shared the money with their partners.
“Essentially, someone at some point would cash or deposit these checks and the goal was to take the money out and whoever was involved, they would divide the proceeds,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Grieb in a published report.
In June 2013 charges were filed against Gerard Joseph, 36, of La Jolla, Calif., in connection with another scheme to defraud the Sheriff’s Office. Joseph was charged with conspiracy and wire fraud. Allegedly, Joseph was in the business of buying, renovating and selling properties in the Philadelphia area. According to the indictment, between 2007 and at least 2008, Joseph conspired with Bell to purchase properties at Sheriff’s sale for 10 percent of the sale price. Joseph would pay the 10 percent deposit on the day of the sale and pay the remaining 90 percent within 30 days of the sale. Bell, who worked in the accounting department, would remove the 90 percent payment before it was deposited into the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office bank account, thereby allowing Joseph to buy the properties for 10 percent of the sale price. Joseph would then allegedly resell the properties at a profit and would pay Bell a fee.
Contact staff writer Larry Miller at (215) 893-5782 or firstname.lastname@example.org.