Aide to Reynolds Brown and Nutter fired after ethics report

Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown called her personal use of campaign dollars "an error in judgment."
Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown called her personal use of campaign dollars "an error in judgment."
Posted: January 31, 2013

John D. McDaniel, a political operative for City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, Mayor Nutter, and other city politicians, was fired Tuesday by the Nutter administration after the city Ethics Board documented widespread financial irregularities in Brown's 2011 reelection campaign.

In the city's political and legal circles, there was speculation that the scandal could end Brown's political career as well.

The Ethics Board reported Monday that, with McDaniel's cooperation, Brown used campaign funds to repay a personal loan of $3,300 from Chaka "Chip" Fattah Jr., son of U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.), and tried to conceal the transaction on campaign finance reports by listing it as a payment to a printing company.

The councilwoman also admitted depositing four campaign contributions, totaling $1,400, into her personal bank account.

Several lawyers said the transactions could lead to prosecution - which would make it difficult for her to survive politically - and the president of the Committee of Seventy, Zack Stalberg, called on law enforcement officials to investigate. The District Attorney's Office and the U.S. Attorney's Office declined to comment.

The Ethics Board levied record civil penalties, totaling $48,834, against Brown and her campaign organization, Friends of Blondell Reynolds Brown, for the personal use of campaign dollars, and dozens of omissions and misstatements.

Brown told Ethics Board investigators that she had financial problems in late 2010, after a separation from her husband, and had to raise about $30,000 to save her home from foreclosure.

McDaniel, 39, was Brown's campaign manager when she won reelection to her fourth four-year term in 2011, and, according to the Ethics Board, was the only person with authority to write campaign checks.

He had also worked on Nutter's reelection campaign and, with Nutter's backing, landed a patronage job at Philadelphia International Airport last January as Nutter began his second term. Until this week, he was paid $87,125 a year as an assistant managing director, running a program where volunteers answer questions for travelers.

McDaniel lost the job at the close of business Tuesday, on Nutter's orders.

"I have known John McDaniel for a long time, and certainly I'm disappointed by his actions and admissions as outlined in the Ethics Board report," Nutter said in a statement. The dismissal was "imperative to ensure the integrity of our government and our personnel," he said.

McDaniel could not be reached for comment.

He held other patronage jobs for five years under Mayor John F. Street, but was forced to resign in 2005 after working for a judicial candidate in violation of a City Charter provision that prohibits employees from political work.

The city's inspector general had also looked into allegations that McDaniel stole $13,000 from a nonprofit agency while he was working at the Mayor's Office of Community Services. The nonprofit filed a police complaint but withdrew its charges after McDaniel repaid the $13,000 in a settlement agreement.

Philip Goldsmith, the former city managing director who was McDaniel's boss in 2005, said Tuesday he was "shocked" to read that McDaniel had returned to the city payroll.

"I'm all for giving people second chances, but this guy seems to have nine lives," Goldsmith said. "And the position he has now is one of those jobs that seems to be made up, the type of thing that should go away in a government that's downsizing. . . . Obviously he had influence with someone."

That someone, apparently, was Nutter.

Nutter's campaign paid $14,860 to McDaniel for work in 2011, listing him as a "field director" in one report. The campaign paid an additional $59,700 to a political action committee McDaniel controlled, the Progressive Agenda PAC.

After the election, the mayor sat down with McDaniel and discussed his work history before offering him a job, said Nutter's spokesman, Mark McDonald.

"Basically, the mayor gave him a second chance," McDonald said.

Brown attended a brief Rules Committee meeting Tuesday. Cornered by reporters, she dismissed her personal use of campaign dollars as "an error in judgment" and walked away when asked whether she had been questioned by the FBI.

"I've indicated in my statement that I take full responsibility for the actions of my campaign staff, I take responsibility for my error in judgment, I've taken corrective action, and I apologize to my colleagues and my supporters," she said, repeating the phrases with minor variations in response to every question asked.

Stalberg called for the city to put online the annual financial disclosures filed by city officials. He also questioned whether the civil penalties for violations of campaign finance and ethics laws were stiff enough.


Contact Bob Warner at 215-854-5885 or warnerb@phillynews.com.

 

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