School District Employee Arrested on Perjury, Conflict of Interest Charges

Prosecutors say that as schools closed, Priscilla Wright steered nearly $1 million in contracts to friends and family.

Priscilla Wright via LinkedIn | School District headquarters, Jeff Fusco

Priscilla Wright via LinkedIn | School District headquarters, Jeff Fusco

A Philadelphia School District employee faces charges of steering $900,000 worth of contracts to vendors owned by, and that employed, friends and family.

Priscilla Wright, 50, was manager of small business development for the district. She turned herself in and was arrested today, officials say. She has also resigned her employment with the district.

Officials say that in March 2013, during a round of school closings — 23 buildings were shuttered — the district sought bids to move property to other locations around the district. Prosecutors allege she contacted Sam and Serena Murphy, owners of Murphy’s Transporting Services, and encouraged them to apply for the work. After that, she put together a team to work under the Murphys’ auspices, including her son, daughter, sisters and a nephew.

“Wright’s family members were placed in positions of profit and control. Some family members were inserted directly into a profit-share agreement,” prosecutors said in a statement announcing the charges. “And others were placed in administrative functions for profit. For example, she forced out the Murphys’ own accountant and replaced him with her sister Veronica Wright, concentrating the contract’s payroll and bookkeeping functions.”

Wright denied such actions when questioned before a grand jury, which nonetheless recommended her indictment based on her own emails, as well as other witnesses.

“Priscilla Wright used her employment at the School District of Philadelphia to not only position herself as the ‘ringleader,’ but she steered a lucrative contract to her friends and family and stayed involved with the contract to make sure that everyone she wanted got paid as schools closed across the city,” District Attorney Seth Williams said in the statement. “Ms. Wright and her family are a perfect example of why we need to never stop reviewing and overseeing how the public’s money is spent, because once we remove the checks and balances, the fox all too often raids the henhouse.”

Williams said the grand jury had recommended charges of conflict of interest and perjury in the case.