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Rewards 101: How anonymous tipsters get paid for info

It started out as a $7,000 reward for information on the violent kidnapping of Carlesha Freeland-Gaither, the Germantown woman grabbed off the street who was found alive in Jessup, Md. on Wednesday. But that total grew quickly after contributions from the feds, corporate donors and anonymous individuals.

That’s how it works when heinous crimes in Philadelphia happen — money pours into the Citizen’s Crime Commission from a variety of sources and they facilitate getting the money to anonymous tipsters who lead police to an arrest and conviction.

But you might not know that these rewards — while publicized when crimes happen, and which are designed to incentivize calls to police investigators — have less to do with the Philadelphia Police Department than it seems.

Take the case of Philadelphia Twitter star @FanSince09, whose social media investigation was hailed by police and national media (Good Morning America, the Today show, The View, etc) in the brutal beating of a gay couple.

Local restaurateurs advertised that they were offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the case, but @FanSince09, who prefers to remain anonymous, never got any indication from police or the Citizen’s Crime Commission that a reward had actually been posted.

“If people are going to offer rewards, make sure you know what the procedures are,” he said in an interview with Billy Penn. “I don’t think they were just doing it for PR, I think they meant well, but from what I’m seeing, it wasn’t handled the way rewards are handled.”

Officer Jillian Russell, spokeswoman for the Philadelphia Police Department, said the mayor put out an order several years back that requires a $20,000 reward is offered in every homicide for the arrest and conviction of the person who committed it. But police don’t hold or distribute any of that money.

That’s left up to the Citizen’s Crime Commission of the Delaware Valley, a 501(c)3 organization that gets its funding in some cases from officials and fundraisers, but in many cases from individuals who have connections to the victims of crimes.

Santo Montecalvo, vice president of the commission, said the group usually pulls together funds for heinous crimes, but will never turn down a person wanting to post a reward for information leading to an arrest in any crime. And he said more than half of the time a reward is posted, it works.

The group’s federal IRS 990 form in fact shows the group paid out nearly $160,000 in rewards in 2012, $120,000 in 2011 and $152,000 in 2010. The majority of the revenue used to make those payments, according to the filings, comes from fundraising and government grants.

In homicides, the mayor’s office contributes $20,000. Other times, funds come in from federal agencies, the Fraternal Order of Police or individuals.

From there, according to Montecalvo, a person interested in receiving a reward — no matter who they are or if they have a connection to the suspect — calls the commission with information, and it’s completely anonymous.

Any money posted that is specified by the donor to be just for information is given to the tipster, but that doesn’t happen frequently. Usually, rewards are for information that leads to arrest and conviction.

After the person gives the crime commission pertinent information that is forwarded to police, the crime commission provides the tipster with a code number. But the burden of following along with case rests with the tipster.

The person who provided information must follow along to see if the suspect is later convicted, then call back the commission and provide the code number to retrieve their reward, according to Montecalvo. The group won’t do it for them. He wouldn’t go into specifics over how the money is distributed to the person from there, but once the person receives it, it’s their responsibility to pay taxes on it. The entire time, their anonymity remains intact because, “that’s our hallmark.”

“We want people to be out there, to be diligent, check their surroundings,” he said. “If they see something, don’t hesitate to call. It can help someone.”

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