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June 30, 2004
Philly Corruption Investigation Nets Mayor's Crony

A Philadelphia federal grand jury delivered an indictment yesterday from an ongoing investigation into corruption in city government, charging Philly's former treasurer, a powerful attorney allied with Mayor John Street, and ten others with graft:

A federal grand jury in Philadelphia on Tuesday indicted the city's former treasurer and a powerful lawyer with close connections to Mayor John Street as part of a wide-ranging investigation into municipal corruption.

The indictment, which names 12 defendants, charges the former treasurer, Corey Kemp, with accepting payments, gifts and other benefits from the lawyer, Ronald A. White, in exchange for directing city business worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to Mr. White's law firm and other companies linked to him. ...

Mr. Street, who was elected to a second term in November, was not charged. But the indictment asserts that he instructed his staff to award city business to Mr. White or any firms he recommended whenever they appeared qualified for the work. It also accused Mr. Street of telling aides to provide Mr. White, who has been a fund-raiser for Mr. Street since he was on the City Council, "inside information" on city agencies.

Last year, when Street ran for re-election, news of the FBI investigation into corruption broke when electronic bugs were discovered in the mayor's office. At that point in the election, as the Times' James Dao notes, Street only led Republican Sam Katz by one point in the polls. However, rather than be abashed by the federal graft probe, Street proclaimed his martyrdom to a Republican plot to destroy Democratic mayors -- and the Philly electorate returned him to office by a sixteen-point margin.

Now, of course, the chickens have come home to roost. The indictments by a federal grand jury demonstrate that far from being an evil GOP conspiracy, Mayor Street's administration has resembled Tammany Hall more than anything the Founding Fathers proposed more than 200 years ago in Street's city:

The indictment asserts that Mr. Kemp directed $633,594 in bond counsel fees to Mr. White. He also helped Commerce Bank/Philadelphia, which had hired Mr. White, win city business, including a $30 million line of credit, the indictment charges. And it says he urged that a "paramour" of Mr. White receive printing work worth more than $308,000.

In exchange, Mr. White gave Mr. Kemp $10,000, tickets and transportation to the Super Bowl game and N.B.A. All-Star events, a $10,350 deck for his house, numerous free meals and the promise of a secret partnership in a proposed racetrack-casino.

Mr. White often emphasized the importance to their criminal enterprise of getting Mr. Street re-elected, the indictment says. "It gives us four more years to do our thing," he told Mr. Kemp, according to a recorded conversation cited in the indictment.

A grand-jury indictment is not a conviction, but it holds more significance than charges filed by a district attorney. A panel of citizens hear testimony and review evidence, and only return indictments if they believe that the evidence supports a reasonable basis for prosecution. Unless the FBI rounded up the Republican National Committee as its grand jury, the allegations that the Bush administration targeted Street for his party affiliation, rather than the graft party over which he appears to have presided, have been exposed as completely false.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 30, 2004 6:03 AM

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