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Former Michael Nutter aide Desiree Peterkin Bell’s lawsuit against Philadelphia’s city controller begins with a quote from George Bernard Shaw, the famed Irish playwright and political thinker from the last century.
“He knows nothing; and he thinks he knows everything,” the suit reads. “That points clearly to a political career.”
Peterkin Bell filed the suit in the Court of Common Pleas today, accusing Alan Butkovitz, the city controller, and Ashley Del Bianco, executive director of the Mayor’s Fund, of defamation, false light and injurious falsehood or disparagement. She’s seeking damages “substantially” in excess of $50,000 for each of the three counts.
There’s been no love lost between the office of former Mayor Michael Nutter and Butkovitz. And the lawsuit continues that grand tradition, laying out a scenario of Del Bianco seeking to disparage Peterkin Bell in order to ingratiate herself with the new administration, and Butkovitz using his power to go after Peterkin Bell as a way to embarrass Nutter. Within the 32 pages of the suit, there’s plenty of colorful language propping up Peterkin Bell’s accomplishments and throwing all kinds of shade at Butkovitz and Del Bianco.
- “McCarthyist-tactics like calling press conferences to publicly accuse, indict, try, and judge Ms. Peterkin Bell in the press, however, have nothing to do with Butkovitz’s job as the Controller or Del Bianco’s job as Executive Director of the Mayor’s Fund of Philadelphia.”
- “(Del Bianco) is trying to appear as if she is blowing the whistle to give herself an insurance policy in the event the new administration is looking to clean house.”
- “This fact is undeniable. The City of Philadelphia stands in a better place because of (Peterkin Bell’s) tenure with the City’s administration.”
Peterkin Bell, the former City Representative and spokeswoman for former Mayor Michael Nutter, had vowed to sue to Butkovitz after the City Controller held a press conference to release a report alleging Peterkin Bell used the Mayor’s Fund for Philadelphia “as if it were a special slush fund.” The lawsuit hones in on this phrase, calling it a knowingly false statement and one the suit alleges Butkovitz contradicted by saying there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.
Butkovitz alleged a string of misspent charitable funds including $50,000 at the Philadelphia Courtyard Marriott, $46,000 on a trip to Rome, $704 in Uber charges and an $80 pair of shoes from Macy’s. The account itself is funded by the Philadelphia Marathon and is intended to allocate grants. However, Butkovitz said it didn’t appear anyone else was approving expenses.
The trip to Rome criticized by Butkovitz was one of Nutter’s trips before Pope Francis visited Philadelphia. Peterkin Bell’s attorneys pushed back in the suit, writing: “Ironically, it was the most successful event in this City’s history – hosting Pope Francis – for which Ms. Peterkin Bell has been falsely accused by a do-nothing bomb thrower (Butkovitz) and a vindictive, jealous former co-worker (Del Bianco) of criminal misconduct.”
Formerly the chair of the Reserves Account of the Mayor’s Fund, Peterkin Bell has vehemently denied Butkovitz’ charges, writing in a prepared statement that “expenditures were closely scrutinized to ensure that they met the criteria established by the Fund.” Nutter also released a scathing statement after the report was released, calling the controller “a liar, a snake and a hypocrite.”
Peterkin Bell said the chain of command at the Mayor’s Fund included financial approval from Del Bianco. But Butkovitz still contends there’s no evidence of that.
“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.”
In order to win a defamation claim, the complainant — in this case, Peterkin Bell — must not only prove that a statement made was false, but also that there was malicious intent behind the claim.
The Mayor’s Fund was established in 1979, but under Nutter, the grant-making fund was split into two: the Marathon Grant Fund and the Marathon Reserves Fund. It’s the reserves fund Butkovitz has criticized, saying city officials used the cash to spend on whatever they deemed necessary.
The fund is a nonprofit financed by a mix of public and private dollars. Its board is appointed by the mayor, and that board then appoints a chair.