By John N. Mitchell
A former fraud investigator for the City Controller’s office, who is also a member of a well-known political family, was indicted on federal charges that he allegedly committed fraud, taking more than $22,000 in bribes and kickbacks.
U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain on Thursday announced a 13-count indictment against Jeffrey Blackwell, 46, the grandson of late U.S. Rep. Lucien Blackwell, and the step-grandson of Philadelphia City Councilmember Jannie Blackwell.
Charges include wire fraud, federal program bribery, falsifying a tax return and failing to file a proper tax return.
The younger Blackwell is accused of using his position in the City Controller’s office and his political connections to help bolster his side business as a contractor. He allegedly promised services such as lucrative city contracts, licenses and permits for home renovation work, and then did not provide them.
“If you are an elected official, a public official or a public employee and you debase yourself and your position and betray the public through corrupt acts, you will be prosecuted and jailed,” McSwain said in a statement. “And when doing your job, don’t try to walk up to the line between corrupt and honest behavior. Stay far away from that line. Instead, do your job honestly and faithfully every day in every possible way. That is what the public deserves.”
Blackwell worked as a fraud investigator in the City Controller’s office from 2013 to 2015; he earned $90,000 annually in the role. He resigned after a FOX-29 report raised questions about his side dealings.
Blackwell also faces a charge of federal program bribery for allegedly taking a bribe to award a contract with the City to install decals on Philadelphia police vehicles and a license to operate a used car sales business.
He also faces charges related to making a false claim on his 2012 tax return, and failing to file federal tax returns in 2014.
City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart said in a statement, “The vast majority of city employees are good people who work hard each and every day to improve the city. However, there are a few bad actors who abuse their positions and the public’s trust. We cannot turn a blind eye to those individuals. They must be rooted out and held to account. Today’s announcement sends a clear message that these kinds of egregious actions won’t be tolerated.”
When interviewed after the City Council meeting on Thursday, Jannie Blackwell said news of her step-grandson’s indictment was a surprise.
“I just heard about it, unfortunately, but I have no information about it,” she sad. “I have no information about it, so I can’t say anything about it.”
Asked by a reporter whether she thought she might be charged as well, Blackwell became defensive.
“Me charged? For what?” Blackwell said. “Why would I be charged? I don’t know anything about it. You probably have more information than I do. But I am sad. I’m very sorry to hear about it.”
A member of the Blackwell family has represented District 3 for 45 years. Lucien Blackwell represented the district from 1975 to 1991, when he was elected to a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Jannie Blackwell ran to fill the seat her husband vacated and won, and has held the seat ever since. Earlier this year, political newcomer Jamie Gauthier defeated Jannie Blackwell in the Democratic primary for the seat.
John N. Mitchell is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.