PHILADELPHIA (AP/WTXF) - A top aide to former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter is accused of stealing more than $20,000 in city funds to buy clothing, pay for vacations and take more than 500 Uber rides.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced Tuesday that public corruption charges have been filed against Desiree Peterkin Bell. She was hired by former Mayor Michael Nutter and served as city representative in 2012.
The charges stem from a grand jury investigation into Peterkin Bell’s frequent, escalating use of two credit cards belonging to a city-related, nonprofit organization she oversaw known as the Fund for Philadelphia, or "the Mayor's Fund," from early 2013 until late 2015.
The grand jury found evidence that Peterkin Bell illegally used $225,000 in city funds — specifically related to the Philadelphia International Cycling Classic bike race — to satisfy debts that she incurred from other city events and contracts.
Prosecutors say Peterkin Bell made fraudulent charges in excess of $20,000. The alleged charges included personal hotel stays, vacation travel expenses and Uber rides for herself, her daughter and the family babysitter, among other personal expenses.
“This is a case of a high ranking public official – who was charged with the stewardship and safe-keeping of taxpayer money – using the resources of her office to enrich herself and abuse the public trust,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said.
“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; 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.”
As the Nutter Administration was winding down in late 2015, Peterkin Bell planned a dinner party to help launch her future consulting business. Grand jury testimony revealed that the party, which included 17 plated dinners, a wine menu and dedicated bartender, racked up a nearly $1,700 bill that was charged to the Fund.
Since the credit cards were linked to an account held by the Fund, taxpayers ultimately footed the bill for the alleged personal expenditures, according to the attorney general’s office.
When asked for documentation or receipts to justify the fraudulent expenses, Peterkin Bell allegedly refused or represented the spending as “work-related.”
Prospectors say that in late 2014, Peterkin Bell used $25,000 in city funds to cover debts for Welcome America under the guise of a sponsorship.
A witness testified that a sponsorship invoice was created after the fact at Peterkin Bell’s direction in an alleged attempt to conceal the misuse of city funds.
Peterkin Bell also allegedly misused $200,000 from the Fund’s “leftover” bike race money in 2014 to cover debts for a contract with Forbes.
Instead of fundraising to cover the cost of the contract as originally pledged, Peterkin Bell allegedly negotiated with Forbes to reduce the Fund’s debt and instructed employees to create false sponsorship agreements with the Philadelphia Marathon and the Philadelphia International Cycling Classic.
Shapiro says the investigation concluded Nutter, who was mayor from 2008-2016, was unaware of the wrongdoing.