On Monday, Philadelphia’s Board of Ethics released a settlement it had reached with Philadelphia Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, who has served as an At-Large Councilperson since 2000.
Here’s a statement from Board of Ethics executive director J. Shane Creamer, Jr.:
On January 28, 2013, the Board of Ethics approved a settlement agreement involving the Friends of Blondell Reynolds Brown and the Hon. Blondell Reynolds Brown. The agreement resolves violations of the campaign finance law by Councilwoman Reynolds Brown and Friends of Blondell Reynolds Brown for: a) making material misstatements and omissions in campaign finance reports filed with the Board (Phila. Code § 20-1006(4)); b) accepting excess contributions (Phila. Code § 20-1002(12)); and c) failing to properly deposit contributions (Phila. Code § 20-1003). The agreement also resolves violations by Councilwoman Reynolds Brown for accepting prohibited gifts (Phila. Code § 20-604) and failing to disclose transactions on her 2010 and 2011 Statements of Financial Interests, as required by Phila. Code § 20-610.
A further reading of the settlement agreement reveals that the Councilwoman admitted using campaign loot to pay off a personal loan from the son of United States Congressman Chaka Fattah, a loan she needed to stop her home from going into foreclosure—a problem facing many of her constituents. It’s also a loan she should not have accepted to begin with. In addition, she admitted covering up her
crime violation by claiming the repayment as a graphic design expense.
In other words, this four-term elected official, who represents all of the citizens of Philadelphia and who makes the laws that those citizens are expected to follow, well, she broke the law. And then she lied about it.
That’s not all she did wrong. No, if you add up everything cited in the Board of Ethics settlement agreement (you can download the whole thing here), her campaign made 165 “material omissions” and another six
lies “material misstatements.”
And that’s just in the 2011 campaign finance reports. What about the thousands and thousands of lines of contributions and expenditures from previous campaign reports? What are we going to find when we start combing through those?
Of course, none of this comes as any surprise to you, simply because Philadelphia’s City Council has such a rich history of corruption, not including legal corruption like DROP.
As a result of the FBI’s legendary ABSCAM operation, which is soon to become a major motion picture starring local favorite Bradley Cooper, City Council President George Schwartz, Majority Leader Harry Jannotti, and Councilman Louis Johansan all went to federal prison. In January 1980, Schwartz famously met with FBI agents (disguised as sheiks) in the Barclay Hotel on Rittenhouse Square. He accepted a big bribe and then told the fake sheiks (on tape, naturally): “We got five or six members [of City Council] … You tell me your birthday. I’ll give them to you for your birthday.” You can’t make this stuff up!
Given that the ABSCAM story made international headlines and created such a stir in the early ’80s, you’d think that subsequent members of City Council would have taken notice and been on their best behavior. But that’s not the case.
Also in the 1980s, Councilman Leland “Lee” Beloff was sent to federal prison for trying to extort developer Willard Rouse and for forcing a builder to give his mistress a free luxury apartment. While in prison, Beloff was convicted of election fraud.
In 1991, Councilman James “Jimmy” Tayoun accepted a jail term and pleaded guilty to tax evasion, mail fraud and racketeering, among other charges. Tayoun had also been accused of bribing a city official. Who? Lee Beloff. Since Tayoun was such a committed public servant, he penned an advice guide for convicts on their way to lockup. Today, you can buy a copy of Tayoun’s 80-page Going to Prison? on Half.com for 75 cents.
When he was a City Councilman, John Street had to come clean about a long history of tax evasion and pay nearly $10,000 in back taxes. In 1999, when he was running for mayor, an opponent ran this political ad:
As a onetime tax deadbeat who twice declared bankruptcy and failed to repay a student loan … He got caught not paying his federal taxes. The IRS filed four liens against him. He didn’t pay his student loan, so he was fired as a teacher and taken to court. He didn’t pay his local tax, then voted for a bill that forgave the debt.
Then in 2002, Councilman Angel Ortiz admitted that he had been driving without a license for 25 years, after a TV news camera caught him breaking the law. He had his new driver’s license suspended for six months and paid a $550 fine, in addition to paying off his thousands of dollars in traffic tickets. But Ortiz got off easy: He could have been sentenced to as much as seven years in jail.
And who can forget Councilman Richard “Rick” Mariano’s dramatic ascent to City Hall’s Observation Deck in 2006? His friends and colleagues worried that he would throw himself off, in light of the impending federal indictment against him. He didn’t. Instead, he went to a psychiatric hospital and later to prison, where he served time for taking bribes. Since getting out, Mariano has tried his hand at stand-up comedy and has also testified before City Council about the difficulties of finding work when you’re an ex-con. I feel for you, Rick. I really do.
From ABSCAM to Reynolds Brown, that’s nine lawbreakers on Philadelphia’s City Council in a period of 32 years. That averages out to more than one (known) lawbreaker for every four-year Council term, which members can serve until they die or until you stop electing them.
Quite a record, your Honors.