PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced criminal charges on Tuesday against a former Philadelphia city representative. Desiree Peterkin Bell was the subject of a 14-month investigation following a number of critical audits by former Controller Alan Butkovitz.
His office referred the case to the Pennsylvania attorney general.
Peterkin Bell is now charged with theft and conflict of interest. The accusations relate back to her time as head of a nonprofit agency known as The Mayor’s Fund.
“She cut out The Mayor’s Fund board of directors so there was little or no oversight of her actions,” said Shapiro. “She created an environment that allowed her to operate with impunity.”
It’s claimed she made fraudulent purchases on two credit cards issued to the fund, totaling more than $20,000.
Among those expenses, it’s alleged she bought hotel rooms, train tickets, flights, and booked posh vacations, all paid for out of The Mayor’s Fund.
Peterkin-Bell was appointed by Mayor Michael Nutter. He previously defended her against these allegations when raised by the Controller’s Office, even calling the controller “a snake.”
“This former city representative ran The Mayor’s Fund as her own personal fiefdom. She ruled by fear and used her close relationship with the mayor to amass power to intimidate city employees to do exactly what she wanted,” explained Shapiro.
Nutter is not implicated in any wrongdoing. He said in a statement he is “greatly saddened” by the charges against his former aide.
“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,” said Nutter.
Peterkin Bell is also accused of misappropriating and misusing $225,000 of the fund’s money to satisfy other debts which documents show she incurred in relation to city events and contracts.
She’s also accused of falsifying documents and records to cover up the alleged theft.
Peterkin Bell was released after appearing before a judge. Her lawyer, Walter Weir, shrugged at the criminal allegations.
“I’m frankly surprised the Attorney General’s Office is attempting to demonize my client, who really did nothing improper,” said Weir.