Former city controller Jonathan Saidel may have come the closest to verbalizing the wild-west essence of Philadelphia politics in 2002. Longtime Philly politician Buddy Cianfrani had died, and Saidel was remembering him. Cianfrani was a convicted state senator who spent time in prison in the late 70s and then returned to political life as a consultant and ward leader who was later investigated for election board violations again. Saidel said, “Philadelphia has a unique character. I think the life of Buddy Cianfrani is a backdrop to who we are.”
So a convicted, corrupt politician is the backdrop? Maybe. And just six months earlier, the city learned Saidel was, himself, the target of a federal investigation.
In Philadelphia politics, it seems like some elected official is always being investigated, indicted, charged or convicted. Last week, D.A. Seth Williams was revealed to be the latest. The Inquirer reported his PAC is being investigated for misuse of campaign funds. No one is immune — heck, even super-popular Mayor (and later Governor) Ed Rendell faced questions from the Treasury Department and the FBI.
But! Just because someone is being investigated doesn’t mean they’ll be charged, let alone convicted. To illustrate how widespread these types of stories of investigations are, Billy Penn combed through the last 15 years and listed 39 elected officials who were investigated, whether by the Feds, the state or the city.
Many were charged or later convicted. But some were not. One final disclosure: This is by no means a comprehensive list. It also doesn’t include the (likely) many investigations that occurred but were not reported.
Rick Mariano, Democratic city councilman: The Philly D.A.’s office announced it was “looking into” wrongdoing by Mariano after he said he would help a cable company gain entry into the Philly marketplace if it signed up with the Local 98 Union. He was apparently never charged for this one.
George Brooks, 47th Ward leader; Carol Campbell, 4th Ward leader; Robert J. McGowan Jr., 61st Ward leader; Rev. Randall E. McCaskill, city deputy managing director: All of these Democrats were charged with failure to properly report uses of street money by PA grand jury. Street money is the cash that funnels down from political candidates to ward leaders to committeemen as a process to get out the vote.
Angel Ortiz, Democratic city councilman: Investigated by the city for driving in Philadelphia for 25 years, including using a city car for 17 years, and not having a driver’s license. Ortiz said he meant to get a license but “procrastinated” — for 25 years. After Fox 29 revealed he didn’t have one, Ortiz got one. A few months later, he was stripped of it for six months and had to pay a $550 fine after getting convicted of driving without a license.
Jonathan Saidel, Democratic city controller: The FBI investigated whether he helped two high-rolling law firms that helped his campaign financially by speaking to two city officials on their behalf in an attempt to get them more business.
Democratic State Sen. Vince Fumo: The FBI investigated him for improperly diverting money from Verizon to an economic-development group. This was the starting point for an indictment handed down in 2007 and a conviction on 137 counts of corruption in 2009.
Corey Kemp, city treasurer: The feds went after Kemp for accepting money and favors from lawyer Ronald White in exchange for steering city contracts to White and other White associates. Kemp was later convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Democratic Mayor John Street: The FBI bugged his office to investigate whether he had been part of any “pay-to-play” deals where people or companies donated money to obtain influence. Street was never accused of wrongdoing.
Democratic PA Governor Ed Rendell: Feds investigated whether the city renewed an insurance policy after Rendell made a call on behalf of a broker who was also a campaign contributor. Nothing came of the investigation.
Democratic Councilman Rick Mariano: Investigated and later convicted of bribery and fraud for accepting money from small businesses in exchange for political favors.
Carlos Matos, North Philly Democratic ward leader: Convicted of bribing Atlantic City politicians in exchange for a job in development projects.
Robert Feldman, a Philadelphia fundraiser who once worked for Bob Casey, John Street and Ed Rendell: Feldman was charged in 2008 along with the governor of Puerto Rico with federal campaign finance crimes. Fedman was accused of helping the governor of Puerto Rico evade federal campaign laws to further his own business interests.
Jack Kelly, former Philadelphia city councilman: Republican councilman Kelly was never charged with wrongdoing, but cooperated with the FBI in the 2000s when the feds suspected bribery in his council office. To help investigators, Kelly reportedly secretly wore a wire to lunch with a developer and recorded a conversation with his own chief of staff. That man, Christopher Wright, was indicted on corruption charges — but the indictment was dismissed earlier this year.
William Keller, Democratic state representative from Philadelphia, and Traffic Court Judge Robert Mulgrew: The FBI and IRS raided the office of State Rep. Keller and the home of Judge Mulgrew in 2010 as they looked into campaign spending by local pols as well as the funding of two nonprofits. Keller was never charged with any crime, but Mulgrew and other associates pleaded guilty to fraud and tax evasion. Keller remains in the House.
Donna Reed Miller, former Democratic city councilwoman: The Board of Ethics investigated Miller for allegedly “using city-owned printers to produce materials for the Verna Tyner campaign,” according to the Daily News. She didn’t seek re-election.
John Perzel, former Republican Philadelphia state representative: Perzel pleaded guilty in 2011 to conspiracy charges for using public money and resources in order to subsidize his campaigns.
Dominic Verdi, former L&I deputy commissioner: As part of a large FBI investigation into police-related kickbacks that involved the Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections, FBI investigators in 2011 issued a search warrant for information related to Verdi, his relationship with the police and other establishments in Philadelphia. He was charged in 2013 with extortion after investigators alleged that he took more than $1 million from bar and club owners, but Verdi denied the charges. In Dec. 2016, he was found not guilty on all counts.
John Dougherty, union leader and one-time state Senate candidate: It was reported in 2012 that the FBI had several years earlier wanted documents related to Dougherty’s bank accounts that “showed a pattern of deposits and withdrawals of ‘substantial amounts of cash’ in ‘what appears to be an effort to conceal financial dealings,'” according to The Inquirer. Dougherty was never charged.
Ed Rendell, former Democrat Philadelphia mayor and Pennsylvania governor: The Treasury Department investigated Rendell for allegedly accepting payments from an Iranian group that was listed by the United States as a terrorist organization. Apparently, nothing ever came of the investigation.
Nine Philadelphia judges: Nine current and former traffic court judges were charged in February 2013 following a three-year FBI investigation into ticket-fixing and corruption. Here’s what happened to each of them: Michael Lowry, convicted. Michael Sullivan, acquitted, but has had disciplinary charges filed against him. Fortunato Perri Sr., pleaded guilty. Robert Mulgrew, sent to jail on other charges (see above). Willie Singletary, convicted. Thomasine Tynes, pleaded guilty on other charges. Mark A. Bruno, acquitted. H. Warren Hogeland, pleaded guilty. Kenneth Miller, pleaded guilty.
Blondell Reynolds Brown, city councilwoman, a Democrat: Brown, still a city councilwoman, came under federal investigation in 2013 related to the misuse of campaign money, but charges were never filed. Her campaign manager however was sentenced to federal prison for stealing from Brown’s political action committee.
LeAnna Washington, state senator, a Democrat: Washington pleaded guilty to conflict of interest charges for having her office staff work on her annual birthday campaign fundraiser for a number of years and using public funds for political gain.
Joseph C. Waters Jr., Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge: Waters pleaded guilty in 2014 to accepting cash in order to fix cases following a year of being under investigation by the feds. Investigators said he attempted to fix cases by conspiring with two other judges who were, unbeknownst to him, working with the FBI.
Five state officials in dropped sting case: Remember hearing about that sting case that Attorney General Kathleen Kane never carried out? The Philadelphia District Attorney took over and ended up filing charges against several elected officials who allegedly accepted cash payments from a confidential informant. Among those Democrats charged were: Rep. Louise Bishop, Rep. Michelle Brownlee, Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown, Rep. Harold James and Rep. Ron Waters. Waters, James and Brownlee have pleaded guilty.
Chaka Fattah, U.S. Congressman, a Democrat: Philadelphia congressman Chaka Fattah, who has represented West Philadelphia for about 20 years, was indicted this year on charges related to several alleged schemes that the FBI claims he used to further his political and business aspirations. Fattah has denied the charges and vowed to run for re-election.
Seth Williams, Philadelphia District Attorney, a Democrat: The Philadelphia Inquirer reported last week that Philadelphia district attorney Seth Williams is under investigation by a federal grand jury that’s looking into whether or not Williams misused campaign funds on personal expenses. Williams’ PAC says the district attorney denies the allegations and claims the story was leaked by the Office of Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane — also charged with corruption. And also under investigation by the FBI.
Update March 22, 2017: Williams has been charged with bribery, extortion and wire fraud following an FBI investigation into his personal finances. Prosecutors allege Williams took part in several schemes that made him more than $100,000, including defrauding a nursing home. Read more details about his indictment here.
Update June 29, 2017: Williams pleaded guilty to one count of bribery, resigned immediately and faces up to five years behind bars.