AG charges former city representative with corruption

Kristen Johanson
November 13, 2018 - 11:56 am
From left: Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, former City Representative Desiree Peterkin-Bell

Left: Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images; Right: Cherri Gregg/KYW Newsradio

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro has announced charges against former City Representative Desiree Peterkin-Bell after a 14-month-long grand jury investigation.

Shapiro said Peterkin-Bell, a senior official under former Mayor Michael Nutter, took more than $20,000 from the Mayor's Fund for Philadelphia — all to "fund a lavish lifestyle," he said, including expensive dinners, hotels, travel costs, and vacations. She reportedly used two credit cards dedicated for the Mayor's Fund over a three-year period to pay for her expenditures.

"These funds were supposed to be invested in Philadelphia and programs, which benefit its citizens. Instead, Desiree Peterkin-Bell funded her own lavish lifestyle: vacations, shopping, dining and entertainment," Shapiro said, "and she misused dollars earmarked for a specific purpose to satisfy unrelated debts, which she helped incur, and then falsified records to cover it all up."

RELATED: Philly had $924M in accounting errors, according to audit

Taxpayers ultimately footed the bill of her personal spending, since the credit cards were linked to an account held by the Mayor's Fund.

"She also used the credit card to pay for $1,699 in travel, dining and logging for her wedding anniversary celebration in Portland, Oregon," Shapiro noted.

The grand jury also found evidence that Peterkin-Bell illegally used $225,000 of public dollars designated for city-related services, like the city's annual Philadelphia International Cycling Classic bike race.

City dollars meant for the race were not permitted to be used elsewhere. Instead, she used the money to pay other debts she incurred, like toward Welcome America or the Forbes' 30 under 30 party in 2015. 

"She was threatening. She was intimidating. The staff felt that they could not cross her," Shapiro said. "There was lax board oversight."

RELATED: City officials lost track of $33 million

Peterkin-Bell was arrested and charged with conflict of interest, tampering with public records, and various counts of felony and misdemeanor theft offenses related to her misuse of taxpayer dollars.

"The people of Pennsylvania have a right to expect honest government from their public servants," Shapiro added, "and when public officials violate their oath, we will apply the law without fear or favor."

Nutter released a statement on his website: "I am greatly saddened and very deeply disappointed to learn the details of this new information and these specific allegations. My past comments in this matter were based on what was told to me at that time. If these new allegations are true, they do not reflect the tone and standards that I established for my administration during my tenure. As the Mayor during the time in question, I am very sorry for any potential violation of the public trust in this matter."

Peterkin-Bell's attorney, Walter Weir, said she will defend the charges.

My client believes she is innocent of these charges," he said. "We plans to vigorously defend the matter, and look forward to our day in court."

If convicted, Peterkin-Bell could face up to 30 years in prison.