He Started Fast But Became Council's 5th Conviction

Posted: July 03, 1987

Lee Beloff had it made. He had money, he had looks, he had friends in the right places. He even had had a fling as a Hollywood actor. In his mid-20s, he was elected to the state legislature. Three years ago, he was elected to City Council.

Beloff had it all. But he didn't have enough.

Yesterday, a federal court jury convicted Leland M. Beloff, 45, and his chief aide, Robert Rego, 43, of conspiring with mobsters to extort real estate developers for money and favors.

Beloff, son of a former Common Pleas Court judge, heir to a string of profitable nursing homes, became the fifth member of City Council in 11 years to be convicted of crimes in office.

He thus added his name to a list that includes former Council President George X. Schwartz, Harry P. Jannotti and Louis C. Johanson, all convicted in the 1980 Abscam scandal, and Isadore Bellis, convicted in 1976 of accepting $47,000 in bribes to influence the granting of concessions at Philadelphia International Airport.

Still remaining are federal charges that Beloff, who is Democratic leader of Ward 39-B in South Philadelphia, conspired with his wife, Diane, and others to forge signatures on absentee ballots in the November 1984 election. That case is scheduled for trial next month.

According to court documents, Beloff was secretly tape-recorded telling ward committeeman Charles Pollan to use several pens for the job: "If you're gonna sign them, Charley, make them look a little different. . . . Different colors, different ball types."

Even before his conviction on extortion charges yesterday, Beloff's days on Council were numbered. On May 19, saddled with the charges against him, he was defeated by former City Councilman James J. Tayoun in the Democratic primary.

Six years before the Beloff indictments were returned last year, there was Abscam. Schwartz, Jannotti and Johanson were all netted in the nationally known FBI sting operation that involved a phony Arab sheik purportedly interested in building a luxury hotel in Philadelphia.

The FBI recorded and videotaped two meetings at the Barclay Hotel in which Schwartz and Jannotti talked with representatives of the sheik.

Schwartz made a memorable boast as he accepted $30,000 and agreed to speed up the project.

"We got five or six members (of City Council)," he told two agents in disguise. "You tell me your birthday. I'll give them to you for your birthday."

After twice appealing his conviction to the U.S. Supreme Court, Schwartz entered a federal prison in April 1985 to serve a sentence of a year and a day. He now lives in Florida.

Jannotti was Council majority leader and chairman of the powerful Finance Committee as well as a member of the Philadelphia Gas Commission when he was accused of conspiring to take a $10,000 bribe from the sheik's representatives.

He also appealed his conviction to the Supreme Court and eventually served a 4 1/2-month prison term, which ended in September 1985. This spring, Jannotti tried to run for his old Council seat, but the state Supreme Court said his conviction barred him from doing so.

Johanson was convicted in August 1980 of accepting a share of a $50,000 bribe paid to former U.S. Rep. Michael J. "Ozzie" Myers of Philadelphia in exchange for Myers' promise to sponsor legislation for the immigration of a fictitious Arab sheik. Eight months after Johanson's conviction, his son, Louis Jr., 26, who suffered from alcoholism, committed suicide. Johanson had testified that one of the reasons he had accepted bribe money was to help his son fight his illness.

Johanson resigned from Council, sold his Philadelphia home, moved to Longport, N.J., and began doing volunteer work as an orderly and clerk at Atlantic City Medical Center. He later studied nursing at a community college and then served a reduced sentence of a year in prison in 1983 and 1984.

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