Accused of accepting more than $20,000 in bribes while serving as a City of Philadelphia employee in the Office of the City Controller, Jeffrey Blackwell pleaded guilty Wednesday to one count of honest services wire fraud, one count of filing a false tax return, and two counts of failure to file a tax return.
Between 2013 and 2015, while serving in the Investigations Division of the Controller’s Office, Blackwell abused his official position by soliciting at least $20,000 in exchange for the promise of official actions, but he rarely provided the promised permits or contracts after taking the bribes.
At his plea hearing, Blackwell admitted that he solicited bribes from at least five individuals who were seeking permits or contracts from the City of Philadelphia. One of these individuals owned a furniture store and paid Blackwell for permits to park a storage container on the street. The second person was renovating a house and paid Blackwell for permits to allow that renovation. The third person owned a construction business and paid Blackwell to obtain a plumbing permit. The fourth person owned an auto body shop and paid Blackwell in the hope of getting a license to buy and sell cars as well as a City contract to install decals on police vehicles. The fifth person, who was cooperating with the FBI at the time, told Blackwell that he needed permits from the City of Philadelphia to renovate a house.
Blackwell also admitted that he filed a false 2012 federal income tax return that falsely deducted travel expenses and falsely claimed a dependent, and he admitted that he failed to file a return as required by law for tax years 2013 and 2014.
In September 2019, Blackwell was indicted on 13 counts, including honest services wire fraud, federal program bribery, filing a false tax return, and failure to file a tax return. The indictment alleged that he committed a series of frauds while accepting more than $22,000 in bribes and kickbacks from individuals seeking City permits and contracts.
On Wednesday, Blackwell pleaded guilty to charges of honest services wire fraud, filing a false tax return, and two counts of failure to file a tax return. His sentencing is currently scheduled for December 2020.
“Philadelphians deserve public employees who do their jobs honestly and faithfully. Blackwell did not meet this standard – instead choosing to use his public position to extort money for himself,” said U.S. Attorney William McSwain. “Now he will face the consequences.”
“Jeffrey Blackwell traded on his official position, seeking bribes in order to pad his pockets,” stated Michael Driscoll, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division. “He put his own interests above those of the people he served, depriving Philadelphians of their right to honest services from city workers.”
“This case is one of a bad actor who abused his position and took advantage of the system for his own personal gain. When offenders, like this one, are held accountable, we’re taking an important step toward restoring the public’s trust in government and committing to the idea that Philadelphia works for everyone, not just the connected,” asserted Philadelphia City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart. “But it is important to underscore that this case is not reflective of all city employees, most of whom are hardworking, do their job with integrity and want to make Philadelphia a better place.”
If convicted, Blackwell could face a maximum sentence of 24 years in federal prison,a three-year period of supervised release, a $600,000 fine, and a $225 special assessment.