I recall when the FBI’s 1979 ABSCAM investigation nabbed several politicians accepting bribe money from undercover FBI agents posing as representatives of a fictitious Middle Eastern sheik.
Of course, several Philadelphia politicians were indicted in the FBI scam, including South Philly’s then-Congressman, Michael “Ozzie” Myers. Myers was captured on videotape stating famously, “Money talks and bullshit walks.”
Considering the number of crooks in and out of city government who were indicted by the U.S. attorney for corruption and other federal crimes this past year, this could be Philadelphia’s slogan.
With the inauguration of Joe Biden as president, many U.S. attorneys will be replaced, as the federal prosecutor job is a political appointment. This probably includes William M. McSwain, the Trump-appointed U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. McSwain has been an aggressive and effective prosecutor, as well as a counterbalance to the city’s district attorney, Larry Krasner. McSwain has been critical of Krasner’s progressive reforms and leniency toward violent criminals.
McSwain racked up a good record of prosecuting crooks in our Democratic-controlled city, something that a Biden-appointed U.S. attorney may be reluctant to pursue.
For example, back in July, former Congressman Myers was indicted by McSwain for multiple counts. These included conspiring to violate voting rights by fraudulently stuffing ballot boxes for certain Democratic candidates from 2014 to 2016 in the Pennsylvania primary elections, bribery of an election official, falsification of records, voting more than once in federal elections and obstruction of justice.
“Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy. If only one vote has been illegally rung up or fraudulently stuffed into a ballot box, the integrity of that entire election is undermined.”– William McSwain
According to the indictment, Myers is alleged to have bribed Domenick J. Demuro, the Judge of Elections for the 39th Ward, 36th Division in South Philadelphia. Demuro, a Democrat, was charged separately and pleaded guilty this past May. He was responsible for overseeing the entire election process and all voter activities of his Division.
The voting machines generate records in the form of a printed receipt known as the “results receipt,” which documents the use of each voting machine. The Judge of Elections and other Election Board officials at each polling place attest to the accuracy of machine results.
Myers is charged with bribing Demuro to illegally add votes for certain Democratic candidates in primary elections. Some of these candidates allegedly hired Myers, and others were candidates that Myers favored. According to the indictment, Myers took “consulting fees” from his clients and then used some of this money to pay Demuro and others to tamper with election results.
“Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy. If only one vote has been illegally rung up or fraudulently stuffed into a ballot box, the integrity of that entire election is undermined,” McSwain said.
“Votes are not things to be purchased and democracy is not for sale. If you are a political consultant, election official, or work with the polling places in any way, I urge you to do your job honestly and faithfully. That is what the public deserves, it is what democracy demands, and it is what my office will enforce.”
In another case, McSwain announced on Dec. 21 that Jeffrey Blackwell was sentenced to 22 months in prison, three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay $25,612 in restitution for misusing his official position with the Philadelphia City Controller’s Office to enrich himself by soliciting and accepting bribes, and for committing additional tax crimes.
Blackwell pleaded guilty to charges of honest services wire fraud, filing a false tax return, and two counts of failure to file a tax return. A former City of Philadelphia employee in the Investigations Division of the Office of the City Controller, Blackwell committed a series of frauds between 2013 and 2015, accepting more than $20,000 in bribes for city services.
According to court papers, Blackwell solicited bribes from people who sought permits or contracts from the city. He reportedly accepted bribes from a furniture store who wanted permits to park a storage container on the street. Another owned a construction business and paid Blackwell to obtain a plumbing permit. Yet another owned an auto body shop and paid Blackwell to get a license to buy and sell cars, as well as obtain a city contract to install decals on police vehicles. Another individual, who was cooperating with the FBI at the time, told Blackwell that he needed permits from the city to renovate a house.
“During my tenure as U.S. Attorney, we have made it a top priority to uncover and prosecute public corruption in Philadelphia wherever it exists,” McSwain said.
“Jeffrey Blackwell used his public position to enrich himself to the detriment of all Philadelphians who expect and deserve honest services from the City’s employees. Today’s sentence puts Mr. Blackwell where he belongs – in prison.”
In addition to judges, political operatives and city officials, McSwain shipped off other thieves and crooks to prison. McSwain shall be missed.
Paul Davis’s Crime Beat column appears here each week.