A political scandal from yesteryear among the Philadelphia political elite has returned in the form of a criminal indictment.
Desiree Peterkin-Bell, the former Philadelphia city representative whose departure from City Hall in 2016 was clouded by allegations she misused public money within “the Mayor’s Fund,” has been arrested and charged with felony charges of fraud related to the scandal, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced Tuesday.
“These funds were supposed to be invested in Philadelphia and programs which benefit its citizens,” Shapiro said in a statement announcing charges on Tuesday. “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.”
An investigatory grand jury looking into the abuse at the Mayor’s Fund found evidence Peterkin-Bell illegally used two credit cards belonging to “The Mayor’s Fund,” aka the Mayor’s Fund for Philadelphia, a city-related nonprofit organization.
Prosecutors say that from January 2013 to December 2015, as City Representative, Peterkin-Bell misused more than $20,000 in fraudulent charges – hotels, trains, airplanes to destination vacations in Florida, Brooklyn and Portland, Oregon. She also allegedly copped hundreds of free Uber rides while spending lavishly on meals, and shoes. In late 2015, shortly before Nutter left office, Peterkin-Bell allegedly charged the Fund $1,699 to buy herself and 16 guests a dinner party at a high-end Philly hotel “to help launch her future consulting business,” the AG’s office said.
“Taxpayers ultimately footed the bill for all of these personal expenditures,” Shapiro’s office said in a press release, noting that when fellow staff asked questions about these expenses, Peterkin-Bell refused requests for documentation by fellow fund staff related to these expenses
Peterkin-Bell is also charged with illegally moving funds from one event — the Philadelphia International Cycling Classic — to make budgets work for two other events, transferring $25,000 to Wawa’s Welcome America and $200,000 to cover part of the $3 million the Fund budgeted to help pay for Forbes Magazine’s 30 Under 30 Summit, a four-day event held in Northern Liberties in 2014.
The indictment could represents the chickens coming to roost for Peterkin-Bell, who was publicly accused of mismanaging the funds years ago but had not yet faced any repercussions. It also may tarnish to the reputation of former Mayor Michael Nutter, who was well-known for his scrupulously ethical approach to city business while in office, and fiercely defended Bell against public accusations that she treated the Mayor’s Fund like a “slush fund,” first made back in 2016 by City Controller Alan Butkovitz.
Shapiro’s office said Nutter was unaware of the alleged illegal activities by his aide. Nutter said in a statement Tuesday that he was “greatly saddened and very deeply disappointed to learn the details of this new information.”
The attorney for Peterkin-Bell, who currently runs her own PR company, told media she denies all charges.