Pa. GOP treasurer under probe Patricia Poprik's firm managed three city bond deals with Street ally Ronald A. White. He said their pairing together was coincidental.

Posted: March 14, 2004

The treasurer of the state Republican Party has been drawn into the federal investigation of municipal corruption in Philadelphia.

City officials say the FBI has subpoenaed the city's records relating to bond work done by a firm owned by Patricia Poprik, who has served as the treasurer since 1992.

Her Bucks County firm, First American Municipals Inc., co-managed four city bond issues between 2001 and 2003.

In at least three of the bond issues, First American was a manager and the cocounsel was Ronald A. White, a central focus of the FBI investigation.

The request for records was part of a widespread subpoena after the Oct. 7 discovery of the FBI bug in Mayor Street's office.

Poprik did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

In a brief interview Thursday, White said it was coincidental that First American was paired with him on the three issues, which totaled $435 million.

"She just happened to be on the same team," he said, adding that he could not recall whether he recommended to city officials that First American be put on any specific bond deals.

He said, however, that he regularly endorsed First American when asked about reputable bond firms owned by women.

"She would definitely be one of the firms that I would recommend," he said.

White and Poprik's firms' fees were only a fraction of the value of the bond issues.

First American, for example, received $40,527 for a December 2002 PGW bond for $125 million. White's law firm got $62,500 from the issue.

An additional 26 lawyers, managers and consultants charged an additional $2.7 million in fees in the same deal.

Poprik, 55, of Doylestown, opened First American in 1988. At the time, she told the industry publication the Bond Buyer that she was seeking business under affirmative-action programs because "municipalities are looking for women."

Within a year, First American got major bond deals with the Philadelphia School District, the city's hospital financing authority, and the redevelopment authority, according to Thomson Financial, which tracks bond issues.

By 1992, when Poprik was elected Republican treasurer, First American ranked as the nation's fourth-largest bond firm owned by a woman or a minority.

On a couple of occasions, however, there were questions about how the work was awarded.

In 1993, when First American was selected to manage a bond-refinancing package for the Council Rock School District, the president of the local taxpayers' association railed that the deal was "ramrodded down our throats."

That same year, First American was involved in a $36 million bond-refinancing deal for Chester County in which about half the supposed savings from the refinancing went to pay underwriters, lawyers, bankers, brokers and accountants.

Poprik and several of the top executives in First American had worked in the mid-1980s for the now-defunct Matthews & Wright Inc. bond firm.

Matthews & Wright was at the center of a "pay-to-play" scandal that rocked the financial industry in 1987. There is no information linking Poprik to that company's criminal activities.

First American has also been criticized because of its donations to Republican Party organizations and political action committees.

In New York, a Democratic state senator singled out First American in 1997 for giving $10,000 to his state's Republican "soft-money" fund. The senator said it was an end run around a 1994 federal ban on bond firms donating to politicians who oversee bond work. Poprik denied the allegation.

When questioned in the past about her contributions, Poprik has said her firm was hired on merit, not because of political influence or campaign-giving.

Since 1999, First American executives have given more than $100,000 to Pennsylvania political action committees, Republican Party organizations, and candidates. At least $17,000 of that went to two of White's PACs.

In the interview, White said he knew Poprik though Herb Barness, a Pennsylvania Republican powerbroker.

White said he was friends for many years with Barness, who died in 1998. He said he and Poprik had seen each other on numerous occasions.

"Because she's an investment banker, and I'm sure we discussed business."

Contact staff writer Mark Fazlollah at 215-854-5831 or mfazlollah@phillynews.com.

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