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This post has been updated to include follow-up statements from former Mayor Michael Nutter and City Controller Alan Butkovitz.
A $50,000 visit to the Courtyard Marriott, $704 for a month of Uber rides and $80 pair of shoes from Macy’s are among more than $140,000 in expenses from the Mayor’s Fund for Philadelphia now being scrutinized by the City Controller’s Office.
According to City Controller Alan Butkovitz, Desiree Peterkin Bell, the former chair of the Reserves Account of the Mayor’s Fund and former City Representative and mayoral spokesperson, dodged approval processes for spending on things like hotel stays and meals. The purpose of the account, funded by proceeds from the Philadelphia Marathon, is to allocate grants. At a news conference Tuesday, Butkovitz said there is no evidence that anyone else was involved in approving the expenses.
“It appears the former chairperson used the Reserves Account as if it were a special slush fund,” Butkovitz wrote. “There were no supporting invoices or explanation as to the nature and purpose of these charges.”
In a statement she emailed from her vacation, Peterkin Bell denied Butkovitz’s accusation that spending was not monitored:
The Fund established a process by which expenditures were closely scrutinized to ensure that they met the criteria established by the Fund, which were, broadly stated, that the purpose of expenditures was to fit within Mayor Nutter’s five goals. The Fund’s Executive Director, Ashley Del Bianco, signed off on expenditures to indicate her approval that all criteria had been met. Ms. Del Bianco signed off on all of the expenditures made by the Fund, including those listed by the Controller. I was the only African-American female in the country to have served as the Race Director of a major marathon and was proud to lead a team that worked tirelessly to improve the financial standing of the Marathon by securing a Title Sponsor. I find curious both the timing of the Controller’s report on the heels of questions by the FBI about “[IBEW’s] support of [Mayor] Kenney’s mayoral campaign,” and the Controller’s failure, contrary to his office’s own practice, to give me the opportunity to review the preliminary report or to correct its mistaken assumptions.
Former Mayor Michael Nutter backed up Peterkin-Bell’s assertion and called Butkovitz’s report a “hatchet job” and a “sad and sick person.”
“All expenditures were approved by the Board’s Finance Committee, and the Executive Director in accordance the established procedures,” he said in a statement. Nutter continued…
“Funds cannot be spent without the Executive Director’s approval, and the Board Chair cannot expend funds. This is the usual hatchet attack job by Butkovitz, timed to try to get some attention for himself while the FBI is diligently doing their job in other matters in Philadelphia. The Controller is a liar, a snake and a hypocrite. There is no truth in what he says, every expenditure was proper and for an approved purpose and he never talked to either Desiree Peterkin-Bell or myself about any concerns, which is standard procedure, before releasing this slanderous, libelous and vicious bile from his mouth. He is a sad and sick person.”
Del Bianco did not respond to a request for comment, but Butkovitz did follow up after Nutter released his statement, calling it a “non-substantive response.”
“These purchases were not approved by the Board and there was no evidence or proof to support these charges,” Butkovitz said. “More importantly, this was money that belonged to the Fund for Philadelphia to benefit all Philadelphians, not just a select few who had access to it.”
The lack of receipts or records becomes even more complicated considering the $45,000 spent on a June 2015 trip to Rome — which was, yes, one of Mayor Michael Nutter’s trips to recruit Pope Francis to come to the World Meeting of Families in Philly. Funding sources for the trip were murky from the beginning and never exactly cleared up, which Butkovitz pointed out.
“I did say what I think everyone in the room knows, which is that all of you were working very hard a year ago to track down every shred of information about the papal visit, and you were all stonewalled,” he said.
The greatest detail about financing for the trip came from the Inquirer in June 2015, which reported a statement from Peterkin Bell saying that taxpayer money was not funding the trip, without specifying where the money was coming from.
Seems like the Controller’s Office has found out where.
The investigation began in January, when Butkovitz says Del Bianco reported her concerns about questionable spending to the City Controller’s Office. The Controller’s Office sampled 21 individual expenditures and found that only five of them were related to grants.
Although the Mayor’s Fund for Philadelphia has existed since 1979 (it began as the Council for Progress but changed names in 1984), it was Nutter’s administration that divided the money for grants into two separate accounts: the Marathon Grant fund and the Marathon Reserves fund. Butkovitz described the Grant fund as geared toward advancing the five main priorities of the fund, with the Reserve fund going toward “anything else.”
The investigation gets complicated because the Mayor’s Fund is a nonprofit amalgam of public and private money and administration — the board members that oversee operations are mayor-appointed, and they appoint the chairperson. In this case, Butkovitz said that the board members were not aware of the nature of the Reserves expenditures because Peterkin Bell was not reporting them or getting approval.
Butkovitz gave no timeline for what happens next.