Corrupt city workers slow pay to their victims

Posted: May 25, 2012

Nine city workers who were supposed to be cleaning up neighborhoods instead ransacked homes in Northeast Philadelphia between 2006 and 2008, stealing cash, guns, family heirlooms, furniture and TVs while on the job. Last year they pleaded guilty to the crime.

A grand-jury report said the former workers, who were assigned to the Community Life Improvement Program (CLIP), "used their jobs as a license to steal the entire contents of houses" and were "abetted by a total lack of oversight." Many were tossed in jail.

But this tale is far from over. Common Pleas Judge Sandy Byrd ordered the convicts to pay more than $108,000 in restitution to five victims of their crime spree. So far, they’ve paid only about a quarter of that, and the victims are furious.

Glenn Bruce, one of the victims, is still owed more than $20,000. In April 2007, he was keeping his belongings at a friend’s house in Northeast Philadelphia because he was going through a divorce.

Bruce, a multimedia producer, says the bandits took "computers, camera equipment, lighting, all types of digital peripherals, lenses, data recorders, field recorders" and "all of my children’s trophies, photo albums, things that are sentimental that you can’t replace."

Bruce says that losing the electronics has set him back financially.

Attorneys for the former city workers say their clients haven’t been able to pay for various reasons. Some are in jail; others haven’t been able to find work.

"My expectation is he’ll make every effort to get this resolved [upon release]," lawyer Laurence Narcisi said about client Wilfredo Cintron.

Attorney Thomas McGill Jr. says his client, William Roldan, is "trying very hard to get a job."

Bruce argues that the city should chip in for the restitution owed to him and other victims of the CLIP job.

"This operation would not have been done if it had not been funded by the city, had not been performed by employees of the city, had not been overlooked by supervisors," he says.

Carol Lavery, the state’s victim advocate, says she’s not aware of any case in which an employer paid restitution because its workers committed a crime. But she argues that restitution collections in Pennsylvania "absolutely need improvement."

Here in Philadelphia, about 285,000 defendants are on payment plans for restitution and other court costs. Of those, a whopping 260,000 are delinquent, says First Judicial District court administrator David Wasson.

Defendants are supposed to pay about $181 million annually, but they forked over only $17.7 million last year.

This is just a slight improvement from 2010, when an Inquirer series found that defendants were paying about 7 percent of what they owed in restitution and other costs. Today, that number is almost 10 percent.

Wasson says he can’t comment directly on restitution owed to the victims of the CLIP scandal because of possible legal appeals. But he attributes the recent improvement to reforms made by the courts, and says the First Judicial District is looking to improve collections.

For Bruce, that can’t happen soon enough.

"This has compromised my future earnings," he says. "I really feel upset and disgruntled."

Holly Otterbein writes for It’s Our Money, a joint project of the Daily News and WHYY funded by the William Penn Foundation, that works to shed light on where your tax dollars are going.

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