S. Phila. park group: We're not them!

Robert Tobin , president, and Jillian Ivey (left), a board member, of the Friends of Dickinson Square Park, sit Sunday in the park at 4th and Tasker streets.
Robert Tobin , president, and Jillian Ivey (left), a board member, of the Friends of Dickinson Square Park, sit Sunday in the park at 4th and Tasker streets. (JULIE SHAW / DAILY NEWS STAFF)
Posted: September 18, 2012

MEMBERS of the Friends of Dickinson Square Park, a nonprofit volunteer group that cleans the leafy park at 4th and Tasker streets in South Philly's Pennsport section, want to make something clear:

They are in no way associated with a similarly named group described in a federal indictment unsealed Thursday, and in no way related to Philadelphia Traffic Court Judge Robert Mulgrew, who was charged with fraud.

"We really want to set the record straight," Robert Tobin, 44, president of the Friends group, said as he and another board member, Jillian Ivey, 28, sat Sunday in the park while children squealed with joy on swings and other playground equipment.

The indictment accuses Mulgrew, 55, and Lorraine DiSpaldo, 57, chief of staff to state Rep. Bill Keller, D-Phila., of misusing hundreds of thousands of dollars in state grant money awarded to two community groups - Friends of Dickinson Square, and Community to Police Communications - from 1996 to 2008.

It says that Mulgrew worked at the time for Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, headed by John Dougherty. He became a Traffic Court judge in 2008, and was suspended from the job Friday.

The indictment also charges Mulgrew; his wife, Elizabeth, 55; and DiSpaldo with filing false tax returns.

It says that Mulgrew was vice president of the Friends of Dickinson Square, a nonprofit "all-volunteer group which removed graffiti and cleaned Dickinson Square and the surrounding neighborhood."

Tobin says that when his Friends group formed in 2006, he and his wife had "heard these rumors" that another Friends group existed. He found out that the other group was around in the 1990s and, as far as he knew, no longer operated.

According to the indictment, the Friends group that became associated with Mulgrew was around in the 1990s, and its cleanup efforts were then coordinated by a person whom the indictment lists only with the initials "D.R."

"D.R." is David Rech, the Daily News has learned. He once lived in Pennsport, and now lives in Queen Village.

In the 1990s, Rech met Mulgrew and Keller through the Friends group, and the three then coordinated volunteer efforts, the indictment says.

In the late 1990s, Keller obtained small state grants to fund the Friends of Dickinson Square, and in 1999, Rech applied for nonprofit status for the group, according to the indictment.

Rech and Keller are not charged in the indictment.

Efforts to reach them and the Mulgrews were not successful Sunday. Messages left on home answering machines were not returned. A woman inside the Mulgrews' Pennsport home Sunday waved a reporter away, and did not open the door.

Patrick Connors, 54, who lives near the park, said Sunday that he had been involved with the Friends of Dickinson Square in the early 1990s. He recalled that Rech became part of the then-informal group, which cleaned the park and organized recycling.

But Connors, who believes he left the group about 1994 or 1995, did not recall Mulgrew or Keller being involved with it at the time.

The indictment says that the Friends group associated with Mulgrew received eight grants totaling about $465,000. Five of those grants, totaling about $295,000, were received between 2002 and 2006, it says.

As for Tobin and Ivey, they also want to make clear that their Friends group, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, did not receive any of the state grant funds given to Mulgrew's group. The park recently underwent a renovation with new playground equipment, an improved basketball court and AstroTurf. That was funded by the city and the office of former City Councilman Frank DiCicco, Tobin said.


Contact Julie Shaw at 215-854-2592 or shawj@phillynews.com. Follow her on Twitter @julieshawphilly.

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