Incorporating the The Germantown Chronicle & The Northwest Independent

6661 Germantown Ave • Philadelphia, PA 19119 • 215-438-5171 • germantownnewspapers.com

 
 

How Power Politics, Public Money and Poverty Profiteers Are Destroying Cities


With the clear and convincing conviction of Chaka Fattah on all counts for using his power as Appropriations Chair and front nonprofits for channeling pubic money to other than named recipients, it is appropriate that this practice, long a regular practice of Philadelphia elected leadership, be made public for just how extensive and expensive it has been as it essentially sends taxpayer money to friends and insiders using front corporations.  To add insult to irony, Dwight Evans, who has been nominated to replace Fattah in congress, has been operating with the same tactics inside his own personal fiefdom for years.  Please read below. It is from the Sept. 24, 2015, issue of The Independent Voice.

 

Jim Foster

The Independent Voice



“Jack Kitchen, where are you?”


The front page of the Local section of the Sunday Inquirer of August 17, 2014, tells how investigations into one of the largest and most outrageous examples of power politics, insider deals and the reckless distribution of public money may have moved up a notch - - to the FBI.


Corruption at all levels of government and within the political parties have kept prior investigations from reaching logical conclusions, but recent examples of federal charges moving cases into Philadelphia federal courtrooms for the first time in years may be the start on a pathway that only they can ferret out.

Sure, Vince Fumo served some time, John Perzel and others are doing theirs now, but the machines that crafted the system that steals so much from the public every day and redistributes it to their friends is still very much alive, and political leadership only saw those folks as expendable as long as the system itself was not weakened.   But who knows, for if the FBI picks up critical issues, even as the state Attorney General helps bury its own evidence, then maybe there is hope that this city can break the back of the organizations and save itself from a Detroit-like suicide.   However, once the cases are made, and individuals and situations go public, it is up to you to make sure this city Democratic machine is destroyed to the core.  Bear in mind, there is no effective opposition political party that should be taking these issues to the public and law enforcement each day, as is done elsewhere in this country. The Republican Party here, such as it is, refuses to fight or even name individuals who spearhead the outrageous misuse of power and money that is behind a significant part of what gets done illegally and immorally in this city.

There is nothing close to the kind of full-time investigative journalism by mainstream reporters for strong major news organizations that have folks permanently assigned to public corruption investigations.  Sadly the fragmented remnants of news bureaus, second tier newspapers and web based sources are often owned, influenced and controlled by the Democratic Political machine or its major contributors.   WHYY, for example is one that fits that characterization, and won’t do the heavy lifting.  


The recent departure from Inquirer ownership of George Norcross, huge political boss and union kingpin may be allowing the Inquirer and Bill Marimow, its editor, to revisit some of this territory.  Reporter Chris Hepp takes us down the road on page B-1 Sunday, August 17, 2014 of how the feds apparently are not going to let the Dwight Evans/OARC story die quietly; although city and state elected officials and the State Attorney General have been perfectly content with that outcome. 


Even the State Democratic leadership saw a tragedy in the making a couple of years back when an investigation was begun into the massive amount of state funding that went to a non-profit CDC in West Oak Lane known as the Ogontz Avenue Revitalization Corporation or “OARC” as it is generally referred to.  Dwight Evans, known in that neighborhood as “Mr. ATM” had been generously funding them over the years as Rep. Dwight Evans was the Chair of the State Appropriations Committee, and with the Democrats in the majority, and some Republicans “taken care of as well” it seemed like there was no limit to the stream of state money that could flow through Dwight’s office to OARC or many other related non-profits, CDCs and projects of all types with compliance, audits and oversight never going to take place or be of any consequence if they were ever asked for.  The list is very long of the entities that were funded through the offices of Representative Evans, and some of the more pet projects got refunded over and over even when they failed, but no regulators or overseers ever wanted to see the books or require compliance to guidelines.  There is some reason to believe that if individuals wanted a piece of that continuous stream of state dollars, that having certain folks prepare their financial records, or hire them as “consultants” might get it all done much more easily.


Then there is the other side of the deals, where one’s business might get funded, but then certain “phantom” employees might show up on their books that were recommended by individuals in the political mainstream. It did not matter all that much if a bloated payroll caused losses, for OARC refinanced several sweetheart projects over and over again; sometimes with new names but “same game”.

In some cases, businesses with potential that had reasonable business plans were thwarted by the political system as folks already connected to the machinery did not want competition on the horizon.  OARC eventually ran everything that happened or didn’t happen in West Oak Lane, and then moved its horizons and boundaries further out, actually advertising that it had money to spend in any number of neighborhoods way outside of the area that State Rep Dwight Evans was responsible for.  By the way, this tactic of huckstering public money was also done through federally elected leadership organizations and city elected types as well.   We may all remember PCDC, the agency that “made loans you never had to repay” and was closed down overnight by Mayor Nutter once an investigation was started.


One eyebrow raising “investment” by OARC itself took place with much fanfare, and a large banner on a building in Mt. Airy that housed a night club.   North by Northwest had problems staying open through two owners but then became an OARC investment.  Not the real estate, but a $700,000 plus injection of public dollars to pay past debts for owners who were very much recognizable as close friends of Dwight, part of the city’s who’s who, and the state money paid off their personal obligations.  Never included in the deal was a lease and the club never reopened.  This newspaper covered that story with a photo of the storefront with OARC takeover banner on the front page.  OARC denied that it was funded with public money, but could never prove to us what money it was, despite multiple attempts on our part to gain that information and print it.   A million dollar earmark for a Jazz Festival in West Oak Lane followed, but with little justification for how the money would be spent.  Large scale coverage and almost universal outrage about that deal reverberated throughout the state.


But even the Democrats were getting nervous as the State AG investigation into OARC and Evans was no longer a secret.  Although the State House was about to lose control to a Republican majority a few years back, the Democrats held a special meeting and threw Evans off the bus as Chairman just months before he would have lost it anyway.  The message was clear - - many Democrats, including ones with districts in this city, wanted to distance themselves from Evans and his tactics.   The back story was that this little dance, coupled with a Republican takeover and new tighter rules for state spending, might put the investigation on the back burner - - and so it was.


But it was almost rekindled last year when a newly appointed Assistant State Attorney General came across the case and saw serious reason to want to audit some of the destinations for the massive amount of state money that had been dispensed by Chairman Evans.    Ms. Karen Mann Faulkner, someone from out of the area, with no connection to the city or state political machine, was asking questions that needed an answer - - or so she thought.  Powerful Democrats at the city and state level thought otherwise as a further peeling of that onion was liable to expose just how connected many of them were to the recipients of that money as well.  We all know how that “you help us and we help you” plan works. 


Pushback against Ms. Faulkner was immediate and intense.  Always defiant City Councilmember, Marian Tasco literally screamed from the floor of City Council that “how could a black woman dare to even question anything that Dwight Evans had done for the people” - - and so it was that the investigation stopped a second time.   Ms Faulkner had nothing to say for the record, and was sent packing to an administrative job in Cincinnati Ohio.  As I have said many times to those who say that Evans did a lot for his district:  “You can build a wonderful $200,000 building if you spend $500,000 to do it with your closest political friends.”


This can of worms needs to be in the sunshine and the onion around it needs peeling, for you see they made a deal with OARC where they give back to the state $1.2 million that they had no legitimate right to have in the first place and then cancelled another $1.8 million they were  in line to receive.  Also twisted up in this funding stream is the Urban Affairs Coalition and some strange funding for relatives of high level Democratic operatives.


This was the second deal to stop the investigation but it gets even worse – after all this, possibly the first time in state history that a Rep had to give back over a million dollars – they renewed OARC’s ability to get more.   OARC has been rebranded, a new web page and logo, new academic types in charge, and long-time Major Domo, the man who ran the entire operation for Dwight Evans for nearly 15 years, has for all practical purposes disappeared with no explanation, and no one in the political world, including Dwight Evans himself, will talk about it.


Jack Kitchen where are you?  Call me, as inquiring minds want to know.


Now, some may say that organizations like OARC were vital to community upgrades and sparked further redevelopment.  As I said before, you can build a wonderful $200,000 facility if you spend $500,000 doing it, never file audits and compliance documents, you are guranteed that state or federal agencies that made the money available will never follow up on deficiencies and delinquencies.

That is how business has been done in this city through any number of offices of elected and appointed officials for years.  I would bet the ranch that the reason two state investigations into those factors were snuffed out before completion is because exposing those kinds of situations of wasteful unregulated spending would come to light – as well as details on who skimmed the difference.


I guarantee you that this kind of arrangement is most likely used statewide by politicians of all stripes, but probably nowhere in Pennsylvania have they been used to the degree they have here by elected officials all the way up through our U.S. Congressmen.   Funding with federal dollars way outside of the rules of compliance has been a way of life here for 25 years or more, and, truth be told, if all aspects of the financial damage a corrupt non-profit can cause to a city were to end, it would be my view that this city would be self-supporting and fiscally stable without them.


Jim Foster

Editor