Saturday, July 28, 2007

US: Philadelphia Corruption & Mayor Gives Up iPhone Wait Confronted With 200th Murder Statistic

Former Philadelphia Treasurer Corey Kemp was among three people convicted Monday. Joseph Kaczmarek, AP

Ex-Philly treasurer gets 10-year sentence

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The city's former treasurer was sentenced to 10 years in prison on corruption charges Tuesday in a federal investigation that came to light when an FBI bug was discovered in the mayor's office.
Corey Kemp was found guilty in May of taking part in a scheme to trade city contracts for gifts, favors and cash.
The case hinged on telephone calls, secretly recorded by the FBI over nine months, in which Kemp and Democratic fundraiser Ronald A. White talked about shaking down businessmen for contributions and other payments.
The FBI also bugged Mayor John F. Street's City Hall office, but the device was discovered shortly after it was put into place. Prosecutors said they unearthed no evidence that Street committed a crime, and he was not charged.
U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson's sentence for Kemp was harsher than even what prosecutors were seeking — about eight years in prison. Kemp's attorneys had asked for no more than about three years.
Two Commerce Bank executives also were convicted in the case and will be sentenced in September.
A series of related federal probes of government officials have resulted in convictions of more than a dozen people. White died while awaiting trial.
Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.

Three found guilty in Philadelphia corruption case

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Philadelphia's former treasurer was convicted Monday of more than 20 counts for taking free trips, Super Bowl tickets and other lavish gifts from people seeking city contracts.
Jurors reached the verdicts on their 19th day of deliberations in the case, which stemmed from a wide-ranging federal probe of municipal corruption.
Corey Kemp, the former treasurer, was charged with corrupting his office by accepting thousands of dollars worth of gifts from a lawyer and prolific Democratic fundraiser named Ronald A. White. Investigators said Kemp got a new deck for his house, an all-expenses paid trip to see the 2003 Super Bowl, free meals and parties in his honor, along with $10,000.
The investigation made headlines on Oct. 7, 2003, when city police discovered a listening device that FBI agents had hidden above the desk of Mayor John F. Street. The mayor was not charged.
Two Commerce Bank executives, Stephen Umbrell and Glenn Holck, were accused of participating in the scheme to corrupt Kemp by arranging for their bank to overlook his bad credit history and give him a mortgage equal to 100% of the value of his new home.
All three were convicted of the main conspiracy charge. Two other co-defendants, Detroit businessman La-Van Hawkins and White's mistress, Janice Knight, were acquitted of that charge but convicted of lesser charges.
Hawkins was convicted of perjury and Knight was found guilty of misusing public welfare-to-work money and making false statements.
The jury had signaled last week that it was having trouble reaching agreement on all counts.
On Thursday and Friday, jurors asked U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson and his staff a series of questions, culminating with a note that said, "What do we do if we have exhausted deliberations on one count and cannot reach unanimity?"
White died of cancer in November while awaiting trial.
The bugging came in the waning weeks of Street's hotly contested re-election campaign, but didn't hurt his standing in the polls. Street defeated his Republican opponent.
This spring, FBI agents revealed that they had placed the bug in an attempt to learn whether Street and White had conspired to trade city contracts for campaign contributions.
Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Philly prosecutors indict 12 in corruption probe

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A former city treasurer, a powerful city lawyer and 10 others were indicted Tuesday in a municipal corruption investigation that became public when a bugging device was discovered in the mayor's office.
It is the second round of indictments to come out of the investigation.
The latest indictment alleges that in 2002 and 2003, attorney Ronald A. White gave cash and gifts worth tens of thousands of dollars to then-Treasurer Corey Kemp to influence which financial services companies were selected to handle bond transactions for the city.
The gifts included a $10,350 deck for Kemp's house and a trip to the 2003 Super Bowl in San Diego, prosecutors said. White collected more than $630,000 in fees for his work on city bond deals during Kemp's tenure, prosecutors said.
The probe became public in October, when police conducting a security sweep discovered an FBI listening device in the City Hall office of Mayor John F. Street. Street has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
However, the mayor is mentioned several times in the indictment and U.S. Attorney Patrick Meehan said Tuesday that Street "allowed White to wield the power, the corrupt power, that he did. That's not to say that the mayor committed a crime."
According to the indictment, Street told his staff that if White or companies he touted appeared to be qualified for city work, "the staff members should award the city business White sought and provide White with inside information ... regarding the operations of city agencies otherwise unavailable to the public."
Street said he never instructed anyone to give sensitive information to White or anyone else, and disavowed any knowledge of criminal activity by White or Kemp.
"I've been careful not to do anything wrong and I've tried very hard to guard against even the appearance of any impropriety," the mayor said.
"I said at the time that the bug was found in my office that I was very, very comfortable that I had done nothing wrong, and that they would find no corruption, no sex and no profanity, and I stand by those statements."
Kemp was charged with 46 counts, while White faces 34 counts. Each faces hundreds of years in prison if convicted on all counts.
Two Commerce Bank-Pennsylvania officials were also charged with making improper loans to Kemp, and two former J.P. Morgan executives were charged with arranging for White to submit an invoice for $50,000 for phantom legal work.
Attorneys for White, Kemp and Commerce Bank did not immediately return calls.
On June 2, a federal grand jury indicted five people, including the wife of a politically connected Muslim cleric, on fraud charges. They allegedly stole about $224,000 through a sham adult-education program.
Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Mayor John F. Street

Street chided as Philly murder rate rises

Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA - Mayor John F. Street drew cheers during his first months in office, dispatching squadrons of beeping tow trucks and helmeted demolition crews to clear out thousands of abandoned cars and dilapidated buildings.
But as his second and final term draws to a close, the sound of progress has been drowned out by the noise of gunfire and a chorus of critics who say the mayor has seemingly disappeared in the face of a rising murder rate.
"In the second part of his tenure, he didn't come out to do what you have to do," said Elsie Wise, the head of a community council in West Philadelphia. "He's not putting his best foot forward now. He's out."
In interviews with nearly two dozen community leaders, The Associated Press found abundant discontent with the mayor. Some critics said he appeared fatigued after nearly 30 years in politics. Others wondered whether his administration had been hurt by a long corruption investigation that ensnared some of his closest associates.
Street, 63, was once a fiery community activist and then served nearly 20 years on the City Council before being elected mayor in 1999.
The spike in public criticism helped draw him out Monday for a rare appearance at a crime scene - a triple homicide at a West Philadelphia bar.
What started as a plea for witnesses to step forward turned into a nearly hourlong defense of his efforts to deal with almost daily gunfire, including an astonishing 36 shootings in a 72-hour period this past weekend.
"I think I have to do everything that's reasonable that a city can do to deal with these problems," Street said. "We'd like to think this is one of those silver bullet things. It isn't."
Last year, the city had 406 homicides. With more than 235 already recorded this year, the city is on pace to set a high for the decade. Street said it would have been worse if not for his initiatives, including opening 11 centers for processing curfew violators and hiring truancy officers and 200 additional police.
Supporters say the mayor's hands are tied by the Legislature's refusal to let Philadelphia impose tougher gun laws, including a one-handgun-a-month sales limit.
"Certain things are beyond his control," said Bilal Qayyum, a co-chairman of Men United for a Better Philadelphia.
But most other community leaders describe the mayor as distracted or aloof and believe he can do more, even if gun laws cannot be changed.
Tom Peters, co-owner of three popular downtown bars, is among those stuck on the much-publicized image of Street spending hours waiting in line for an iPhone, starting in the middle of the night. At one point, the mayor left the line when a heckler challenged him about the spike in violence.
"He's sitting in line waiting to buy a new iPhone when we have the highest murder rate that I hope we're ever going to have," Peters said.
Some observers believe Street's troubles began after his primary policing effort ran into funding problems. That program, dubbed Operation Safe Streets, helped close more than 300 open-air drug markets, but eventually proved unfeasible because it required millions of dollars in police overtime.
Perhaps the best evidence of widespread frustration with Street came in May, when a Democratic mayoral candidate running largely on an anti-Street platform swept to victory over four other candidates.
Former City Councilman Michael Nutter, a longtime Street foe, will be the overwhelming favorite against Republican Al Taubenberger in November.
Nutter said he will use "stop, question and frisk" searches to fight crime in violent neighborhoods. He said Street never laid out a clear crime plan and instead issued "a series of uncoordinated announcements responding to the overnight news."
Others believe Street is languishing in part because of fallout from the corruption scandal uncovered on the eve of his re-election in 2003, when an FBI bug was found during a security sweep of his City Hall office.
The mayor was never charged, but nearly two dozen people were convicted, including the mayor's treasurer, a close associate and a top fund-raiser.
"He has too much of a cloud of corruption over his head to be an effective mayor," said Marvin Pixley, owner of Ten Stone Bar & Restaurant downtown. "People don't trust him, people don't believe him."
Street insists he has not received enough credit for his behind-the-scenes work - including visits to each of the city's police districts and efforts to work with mayors in other cities to seek tougher gun laws.
"We are fighting an attitude," he said.

Mayor Gets iPhone, Earful Over Campout,
Street waited in the rain for the hottest new gadget

Mayor Street greets a fast food advertising mascot passing by the line outside the AT&T store this morning. The mayor was third in line to purchase Apple´s new iPhone, which goes on sale at 6 p.m. Tom Gralish / Inquirer Staff Photographer

Street in and out in quest for latest phone
By David O’Reilly and Katie Stuhldreher

Mayor Street greets a fast food advertising mascot passing by the line outside the AT&T store this morning. The mayor was third in line to purchase Apple's new iPhone, which goes on sale at 6 p.m.
The mayor has left the sidewalk. Now, he's returned for 45 minutes. Then gone at 2 p.m. for a meeting at City Hall.
And so it goes for Mayor John Street in his quest for an Apple iPhone, which he said he plans to buy with his own money.
Street said he will return around 5 p.m. depending upon on how long his business obligations at city hall take.
After sitting and standing in line since 3:30 a.m., waiting for the device to go on sale at 6 p.m. today at an AT&T store, he responded to critics who lambasted him for wasting city time.
When asked whether he was concerned about perceptions that he was shirking his duties as mayor of the nation's sixth-largest city, Street replied:
"No, I wasn't worried that people think that. People need to be more educated. There's a time when people had to be at a certain place to do their jobs and now you can be almost anyplace and work somewhere else."
Street said his staff "knows how to reach me."
He also said he didn't want to "pull strings" to get a phone.
A member of Street's security staff is now camped out on Ranstead Street near 16th Street, saving a spot for the mayor. He was third in line from the doors to the store.
The line itself was modest - at 2 p.m. it numbered slightly more than than 20.
People in line said it was "cool" that the mayor was waiting in line just like everyone else.
Leonard F. Johnson, first in line since 6 a.m. Thursday said: "Everyone deserves a personal day. Next people are going to be asking him to account for his bathroom breaks."
Johnson said Street is "a lame duck. He isn't even running for office anymore."
At 11:30 this morning, just before he left his station for the first time, Street declared: "I'm taking care of my business. By 4 a.m., I sent my first e-mail to my chief of staff. I was doing my job while the city was sleeping. I have my Blackberry with me."
Street, an unabashed fan of new technology, said he had sent about 30 e-mails while waiting outside the store.
"I think it's not a bad thing for a person who needs that device to sit and wait. I could have used influence to get one, but I don't work that way."
Just before his remarks, 22-year-old city activist Larry West of Mount Airy confronted the mayor.
"How can you sit here with 200 murders in the city already?" West asked.
Street announced: "I'm doing my job."
He then left for City Hall, returned to his post on the street for about 45 minutes, and then left for City Hall again. He said he would be back before the doors opened for the iPhone sale.
The aide, meanwhile, declined to be identified.
"I'm just holding a spot for the mayor," he said.
Contact staff writer David O'Reilly at 215-854-5723 or

Alejandro A. Alvarez/Daily News

Editorial | Waiting for an iPhone
Mayor Wi-Fi sends a mixed signal
By camping out for an iPhone, Mayor Street put Philadelphia on the world's radar screen last week - even as he was pilloried in his own town.

At one point in Street's 15-hour wait for an Apple phone, a passer-by asked how the mayor could lust after a gadget while the bodies of the city's murder victims piled up. Democratic nominee Michael Nutter even joined in, unwisely, saying, "There are a few things that are critically important to being mayor of the city of Philadelphia vs. getting a phone."
In print and online, though, readers as far away as Australia were told of Street's iPhone quest - mostly without the dose of Negadelphia attytood. In a blog posting, applauded, "Kudos to Mr. Street."
How was it that the farther you got from Philadelphia, the better Street's early-adopter status looked? One theory: For some folks, the often-prickly mayor can do no right. Doesn't matter that Street has put in many a long, long day at City Hall.
But other Philadelphians could have been won over had Street done a better job of framing the whole affair, and making it fit into a positive narrative about his city.
In that sense, this incident encapsulated a key failing of the Street team: assuming public relations is just fluff. No, it's how a mayor tells his city's story and gets people to buy into its future.
In this case, Street's love of gadgets is not just a personal quirk. It has led him to spearhead the nation's most ambitious municipal Internet initiative. He plans to cover the city's 135 square miles with a low-cost wireless fidelity (Wi-Fi) signal. Not only that, the Wireless Philadelphia project is mounting a stellar effort to bridge the digital divide by getting computers and training to low-income residents.
Who better than Street to grab an iPhone and demonstrate how he can surf the Web from any street corner? He missed a chance to more clearly link his iPhone purchase to the Wi-Fi initiative, blunting criticism.
For his part, Nutter may come to regret piling on, once he experiences firsthand how readily Philadelphians indulge in armchair criticism of a mayor's every move.
This, as Michael Jack Schmidt once put it, is the city where you experience the thrill of victory - and then the agony of reading about it the next day.

Philadelphia Mayor Gives Up iPhone Wait After Being Confronted With 200th Murder Statistic
Associated Press Writer

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Mayor John F. Street abruptly ended his wait in line for an iPhone Friday after a passer-by asked him about the city's murder rate.
Street, who showed up outside an AT&T store at 3:30 a.m., left shortly after a 22-year-old sporting a mohawk asked him, "How can you sit here with 200 murders in the city already?" The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on its Web site.
Street told the man: "I'm doing my job," the newspaper said.
Street had planned to stay in line for most of the day, waiting for Apple Inc.'s iPhone to go on sale at 6 p.m. When he left at 11:30 a.m., Street said he planned to return to his spot.
The mayor said he wants the new device because he loves trying out the latest technology. Apple's new handheld would allow him to work some of the day outside the office, he said.
"We don't have to be sitting in City Hall to be conducting city business," he said.
Philadelphia recently had its 200th slaying of the year. Its murder rate is up from last year, the deadliest in nearly a decade.
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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