Sheriff: Office staff can't bid in sales

Posted: January 11, 2012

DON'T GET ANY clever ideas, slick.

That, in so many words, is the gist of a policy created by Sheriff Jewell Williams that would prohibit Sheriff's Office employees - and their relatives, or anyone living with them - from bidding on sheriff's-sale properties.

Williams discussed the policy and other ambitious plans to reform the much-maligned Sheriff's Office yesterday after he attended his first mortgage-foreclosure sale.

"Right now, my job is to clean up the Sheriff's Office," he said, "and I don't think having employees bid on properties is a good thing for the office."

That scenario isn't so far-fetched. In 2005, the Daily News exposed insider dealings that involved the Sheriff's Office's top real-estate manager, his wife and her sister, both of whom also worked for the office.

Former Sheriff John Green said at the time that it wasn't wrong, legally, for employees to bid on properties.

Williams, who took office last week, said he wants to make the office more accountable and efficient by replacing its outdated computer system.

"All the paper work is in," he said. "We're waiting for a response from the city finance office."

The Nutter administration is waiting to read a report from a consultant agency hired by the Sheriff's Office to determine the office's technological weaknesses, mayoral spokesman Mark McDonald said. The administration also is waiting for Williams to sign a memorandum of understanding among the Sheriff's Office, the courts and the Nutter administration, McDonald said.

Williams said another priority is doling out millions of dollars in unclaimed proceeds from sheriff's sales owed to the city, state and homeowners.

"Within a year's time, we want to correct almost 24 years of problems that may have been in the past," he said.

On Monday, three Philly men pleaded guilty in federal court to wire-fraud charges related to a scam to bilk the Sheriff's Office out of thousands of dollars. A fourth man - a former Sheriff's Office employee named Richard Bell - is expected to plead guilty Jan. 17.

In November, a city controller audit raised scores of questions about fishy bookkeeping and suspicious transactions by former friends of Green, who retired in 2010.

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