Breaking: Class-Action Lawsuit Filed Against Former Sheriff John Green

A South Philly widow asks: Where's my money?

Marie Virelli is an elderly South Philadelphia widow. In 2005, thanks to an unpaid tax lien, her McClellan Street home went up for sheriff’s sale, presided over by then-sheriff John Green. Yes, this is the same Sheriff Green who left office in January after 22 years, with city and state officials questioning the whereabouts of some $53 million in taxpayer money. Virelli owed $11,838. Her home, in which she and her husband, Domenic, lived for decades, sold for $13,000.

So where’s the extra $1,162?

So asks a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of Virelli and potentially thousands of other city residents whose homes were forclosed upon between January 5, 1988, and 2011. Attorney Christy Adams of Walnut Street’s Adams Renzi Law filed the suit in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court late Tuesday afternoon against the sheriff’s office, John Green, current acting sheriff Barbara Deeley, and the City of Philadelphia for good measure.

The suit alleges that Green failed to return excess money resulting from sales and that he “took systematic and direct steps … to avoid disclosure or detection by any of the Class members of the exact methodology of the distribution of Philadelphia Sheriff sale proceeds.” It further alleges that Deeley, Green’s successor, “has identified the location of many millions of dollars and nevertheless still refuses to take the action required of the Sheriff’s Office.…”

Last year, City Controller Alan Butkovitz called for an independent audit of the sheriff’s office, which had eluded oversight for years, after Butkovitz’s own investigation found missing petty-cash records, missing deposit slips, “large sum deposit errors” and questionable timesheet practices. Green originally balked, then quit; several employees were fired; and the audit commenced. One source tells the Philly Post that yesterday, Adams subpoenaed audit records from Butkovitz’s office.

Meanwhile, the sheriff’s office has been the target of a federal grand jury investigation since at least February.

Calls to Sheriff Deeley, Adams and the City Controller’s office were not immediately returned.

UPDATE: Prominent political consultant Ken Smukler just called on behalf of Sheriff Deeley. He explains that the sheriff has not seen the lawsuit and, therefore, has no comment, even though the court docket seems to indicate that it was served yesterday. But, wait, isn’t it the sheriff’s office that’s in charge of serving complaints upon defendants? Smukler says that it’s possible that someone else signed for it or that it was diverted to the law department. In any case, he reiterates that she hasn’t seen it.