The investigation began in December when two patrol cops spotted a Kensington store owner giving free food to a disheveled elderly woman who was later identified as 88-year-old Iris Galarza. The store owner told police he'd been feeding Galarza three times a day for free out of pity.
When police followed Galarza as she left the store, they said, she smelled of urine, wore plastic bags on her feet and appeared homeless. But one of her neighbors, Hector Rodriguez, told the Daily News that the woman lived on the block, he said.
"If you didn't know her, you'd consider her homeless, but she has a home," Rodriguez said.
When Galarza allowed police inside her house, they were horrified at the conditions. She had no running water, electricity, heat, stove, sink or fridge, and her tub and toilet were filled with mud, according to court records.
Police said they learned that Gonzalez was Galarza's Social Security representative payee, the person responsible for receiving another's Social Security checks and for ensuring that his or her bills are paid and basic needs are met.
Gonzalez was once married to Galarza's nephew and became Galarza's payee in 2005, according to court documents.
Police spokesman Lt. Raymond Evers said Tuesday that since 2008, Gonzalez has stolen $24,688 from Galarza. Gonzalez even applied for — and received — additional low-income grants for utilities including heat and gas in Galarza's name, but the utilities were eventually cut off, police said.
Police said there's no indication that Gonzalez made any large purchases or has any type of addiction.
Gonzalez has worked in Council for 32 years, including as a secretary under former Council President Anna Verna and now for Council President Darrell Clarke.
Clarke's spokeswoman, Jane Roh, said in a statement Tuesday that Gonzalez works as a secretary for all of Council and had no access to city finances. "The Council president is waiting for more details on the charges and plans to speak with Ms. Gonzalez himself in the coming days, after which he will make a decision about the next course of action with regard to her employment status," Roh wrote.
A spokeswoman for the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging, which became involved in the case early on, said the agency is prohibited from commenting on individual cases, including Galarza's living situation. A police source close to the case said she had been placed in elder-care housing. n
Reach Stephanie Farr at firstname.lastname@example.org or 215-854-4225. You can also follow her on Twitter @FarFarrAway and read her blog, PhillyConfidential.com.