Fmr. city supervisor accused of ripoff

February 20, 2008 8:46:04 PM PST
Imagine being in a position to make sure other people pay every penny owed to the city's water revenue department, while exempting yourself from having to do the same. That's what city officials are alleging happened in the case of the director of technical operations for the Department of Water Revenue.

They are called automatic meter readers. Just about every home in Philadelphia has one to allow the city to electronically monitor your water usage for billing purposes without someone having to go into your home.

Authorities allege one of the men in charge of supervising the installation of that device, Michael Brown, made it a point not to have one in his house for over 9 years, and instead was under reporting his water usage.

"It's the utmost in public corruption when somebody has authority in a position to make other people pay money, but he's able to exempt himself from," said city controller Alan Butkovitz.

The city controller's office says when higher ups at water revenue were made aware of this allegation in May of 2007, instead of firing him, they allowed the supervisor to remain on the payroll until he retired in August. That said, they acted on the advice of then city inspector general Seth Williams.

"That's just ludicrous. We conducted a thorough investigation. We gave the information to the Department of Revenue Bureau and they made its decision of how it would handle its employees. The Inspector General can't tell them what to do," said Williams.

No comment from water revenue officials. As for the former supervisor, Michael Brown? He wouldn't answer the door at his home in Overbrook, but he did answer his home phone when I called.

Brown told me he had no intention of coming to the door. He denied the accusation, calling it--a discrepancy. He says the city just sent him a bill for $1900, but Butkovitz says the bill should have been a lot higher and more action should have been taken.

"There has to be accountability for this kind of behavior other than an attempt after you catch somebody to say, 'Maybe we'll get some of the money back that they cheated the city out of,'" said Butkovitz.

Williams says not only should Brown have been fired and criminally charged, that this story is only the tip of the iceberg of what's going on at water revenue.

"At any one time, there's about 160 million dollars owed to the city in uncollected water bills. I've been preaching that as long as I was the Inspector General," said Williams.

Water revenue officials forwarded our calls to the press office of the new mayor, Michael Nutter. They declined to get involved in a matter left behind by the administration of the previous mayor, John Street.

The information from the 2007 investigation was forwarded to the district attorney's office just last month.