Legal troubles for Councilman's ex-aide may be finally wrapping up

JOHN TAGGART/NORTHEAST TIMES Former City Councilman Jack Kelly and Chris Wright, then chief of staff, in happier times.
JOHN TAGGART/NORTHEAST TIMES Former City Councilman Jack Kelly and Chris Wright, then chief of staff, in happier times.
Posted: March 15, 2013

A CITY HALL legal drama five years in the offing may take serious steps toward resolution Friday in federal court.

Former City Councilman Jack Kelly's onetime chief of staff, Chris Wright, and two Kelly campaign supporters will ask U.S. District Justice Eduardo Robreno to let them change their pleas from not-guilty to guilty.

Wright was sentenced to four years in prison in 2009 for using his City Hall pull to help developer Ravinder Chawla and attorney Andrew Teitelman on real-estate, zoning and tax matters in return for free legal services and a rent-free apartment.

Chawla, one of Kelley's biggest campaign contributors, got 30 months. Teitelman, Kelly's campaign treasurer, got two years.

Kelly, who helped the FBI tape a phone conversation with Wright and a meeting with Chawla, testified at trial. He was not charged with any wrongdoing.

Kelly decided against seeking another term in office in 2011.

The U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the three released on bail in July 2010 to let them pursue an appeal after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of a federal law used to convict them in February 2009.

Their retrial was due to start Monday. Instead, the three plan to ask Robreno on Friday to approve a new deal they made with federal prosecutors.

Attorneys for the three men declined to comment Thursday.

Judging from the documents available in the court record, we're betting the new deal has the three plead guilty to lesser charges in return for sentences equal to the prison time already served.

The deal is proposed under a federal courts rule that says the three men can withdraw their guilty pleas if Robreno gives them more time in prison than they are willing to accept. So first Robreno must approve the deal.

If that happens, the three men would appear again in court Monday to formally admit their guilt.

More moves for 2014

State Treasurer Rob McCord announced Thursday that his political-action committee, which seems to be gearing up for a 2014 run in the Democratic primary election for governor, has hired Mike Butler as a senior adviser and fundraiser.

Butler helped U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr. last year fend off Republican Tom Smith, who dumped $16.5 million into his failed bid to claim Casey's Senate seat.

McCord may be thinking that some serious fundraising help will come in handy early in the jockeying for the Democratic nomination. U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, another probable candidate, had $3.1 million at the end of 2012. McCord had $1.6 million.

Clash over a computer

It's been a rough go for rookie City Commissioner Stephanie Singer, who clashed so badly with her two fellow commissioners in her first year that they dumped her from her post as chairwoman one day after the Nov. 6 general election.

It got worse this week.

Singer asked Tim Dowling, an acting supervisor in the commission's Board of Elections office, on Tuesday to download onto a computer disk a copy of all nomination petitions filed that day by the 39 people running for three seats on Traffic Court.

Singer said Dowling turned her down. So she showed up the next morning at his office when he wasn't there and did it herself, despite being told to stop by an employee who reports to Dowling.

"I said, 'I'm going to do this and if you don't let me do this, I will write you up for insubordination,' " said Singer, insisting that she just wanted to make it easier to obtain copies of the petitions.

Here's the strange part of all this: People who want to review the petitions to file legal challenges against candidates can get already get them for $5 per disk. The state posts the petitions for other judicial candidates online.

Word spread to the commission's weekly public meeting, which started soon after that.

Commissioner Al Schmidt told Dowling to consider filing a grievance with his city union.

Dowling did that. He also called the Philadelphia Board of Ethics.

Dowling thinks Singer may have violated the city's information-security policy, which governs who can access and control a computer containing official information.

"I believe this security policy applies to me as the custodian of this computer," Dowling said.

Schmidt, well aware of the Commission's very public reputation for bickering, said Singer was out of line for using the computer and threatening an employee.

"The whole thing seemed to defy common sense," Schmidt said. "We're portrayed as having a dysfunctional Commission. But what we have is a dysfunctional commissioner."

Singer, no surprise, disagrees.

"It's about transparency," she said. "It's about making election-related material available at a legally inexpensive rate."


Email: brennac@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5973

On Twitter: @ChrisBrennanDN

Blog: philly.com/phillyclout

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