Misuse of $210K handled quietly by city's marketers

Joyce Levitt said she resigned after "a disagreement over how money was being spent."
Joyce Levitt said she resigned after "a disagreement over how money was being spent."
Posted: June 07, 2014

The chief financial officer of the region's publicly funded marketing agency, Visit Philadelphia, embezzled $210,000 over five years, but was permitted to resign quietly when she agreed to pay back the money.

Joyce Levitt, according to Visit Philadelphia's federal tax forms, left her job in February 2012 after the misuse of funds was discovered. Law enforcement was never notified of the problem with the money.

Levitt currently is director of finance at Benefits Data Trust, which, like Visit Philadelphia, is a nonprofit organization.

Levitt said in an interview that she resigned after "a disagreement over how money was being spent."

"Why is this coming up now? I've been out of there for two years," she said. "They are not missing anything. I don't know what this is about."

She declined to go into details about the "disagreement," saying she needed to speak to her lawyer.

Meryl Levitz, chief executive officer of Visit Philadelphia, referred all questions to William J. Winning, the lawyer who represented Visit Philadelphia in the matter.

Winning said "law enforcement was not contacted because we believed it was more appropriate to handle this internally."

"Our primary concern was full restitution, which in fact was made," Winning said.

Manuel N. Stamatakis, chairman of the Visit Philadelphia board, defended how the matter was handled.

"The incident in question was appropriately and publicly disclosed in the FY 11 990 return which was filed in the third quarter of 2012, shortly after the resolution of the matter," he said in a statement. "As was stated in the 990, full restitution of misappropriated funds was made to the organization shortly after the discovery of the incident."

The misuse of funds and Levitt's resignation were first reported Wednesday by the website AxisPhilly.

Levitt's misappropriation of money is mentioned in Visit Philadelphia's federal tax returns for the years 2012 and 2011, the most recent on record.

The 2012 return includes a financial statement and auditor report that noted that the organization, then known as the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp. (GPTMC), had received $210,000 in "reimbursement from a former employee in connection with improper expenses charged to GPTMC, which were for the personal benefit of the former employee."

The "former employee" is not identified in the return.

Levitt, who was paid $157,000 in salary and benefits, is identified in the previous year's tax return as a "disqualified person" who "over the past five years used company funds to pay for personal expenses and was not authorized to do so. However, the individual made full restitution of all amounts and resigned in February 2012."

Winning said the misuse of money was discovered by an audit in early 2012. The money was repaid at the time Levitt resigned, he said.

Visit Philadelphia was never contacted by Levitt's current employer, Benefits Data Trust, Winning said.

"After she resigned, we had no contact with her," Winning said. "We had no idea where she might have applied for a job. We had no contact with her or her employer."

Visit Philadelphia was established in 1996 to market Philadelphia and the region to tourists. In 2012, it reported $11.2 million in revenue, including $8.2 million from the city's tax on occupied hotel rooms.

Given the extent of taxpayer money involved, Winning was asked whether Levitt's actions should have been made public at the time.

"A lot of thought was given here by the organization and by their counsel as to the appropriate course of action to follow," he said. "Given our primary interest was to receive full restitution, that is what drove our decision-making."


chepp@phillynews.com

215-854-2594 215-854-2594

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