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August 29, 2014, 8:09 am

Four charged in Sheriff’s Office fraud case

More than $400K in bad checks uncovered


United States Attorney Zane David Memeger announced four people, including an employee of the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Department, were charged with fraud in an alleged scheme to write fake checks drawn on the department’s account to the tune of $400,000 dollars.

On Wednesday, Richard Bell, Robert Rogers, Jackiem Wright and Reginald Berry were each charged with one count of wire fraud. Bell, who is also an employee of the Sheriff’s Department, was also charged with willfully filing a false federal income tax return.

“Essentially, someone at some point would cash or deposit these checks and the goal was to take the money out and whoever was involved, they would divide the proceeds,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Grieb in a published report.

The indictments come on the heels of an investigation by the City Controller’s office that alleges former Sheriff John Green disgraced his office when he allegedly allowed private parties to improperly benefit financially. The results of that investigation were turned over to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
According to the indictments, Bell was employed in the Accounting Department of the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office. 

Allegedly, between 2007 and 2010, Bell wrote a series of fraudulent checks that were drawn on bank accounts of the Sheriff’s Office to unauthorized individuals and companies.

In the indictment against him, Bell allegedly then forwarded over $400,000 of those checks to Rogers. Rogers is accused of cashing those checks that were made payable to himself. He allegedly forwarded the other checks to other individuals to either cash or deposit. In one instance, Rogers forwarded more than $147,000 in checks made payable to one company to Wright and Berry. Wright and Berry then deposited the checks into the company bank account, and withdrew or attempted to withdraw the proceeds. Investigators say that the co-defendants allegedly shared the cash.

Investigators also accuse Bell of helping one individual, whose name has not been released, in buying real estate at Sheriff’s sale for only ten percent of the bid price. Bell then allegedly removed the checks that the individual submitted to the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office for the remaining ninety percent before the checks were deposited. Bell allegedly charged and received a fee from the person.

If convicted, Bell faces a sentence of 33 to 41 months in prison. Rogers faces a sentence of 27 to 33 months in prison and Wright and Berry each face a sentence of 15 to 21 months in prison.

The accusations against Bell and the other co-defendants closely follow the release of the City Controller’s office forensic investigation of the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Department under former Sheriff John Green.

Alan Butkovitz said Green essentially turned his responsibilities over to a private company that allegedly benefitted financially from 2006 through 2010.

“The victims were real families who had hit financial bottom and could no longer afford to keep their homes,” Butkovitz said.

According to the City Controller’s investigation, from 2006 through 2010, the Sheriff’s Office managed over 61,000 property sales. Reach Communication Specialists provided advertising services to the Sheriff’s Office for those sales for over 20 years. The Sheriff’s Office paid from 2005 to 2010 for advertising services, settlement “pass-through” disbursements, related services, and fees.

“When you examine [the] contracts, Reach/RCS either overcharged the Sheriff’s Office $7.4 million under the 15 percent commission contract, or $11.6 million under the ‘2.9 line per writ’ contract,”

Butkovitz said in his report, adding that Green turned a blind eye to the alleged excesses. “This investigation uncovered people getting rich at the expense of the poor. They overcharged for items and charged excess fees for services they were not contracted to perform. John Green turned a blind eye.”