Sheriff's sales in Phila. on hold as top staffers let go

January 7, 2011 3:07:45 PM PST
The acting sheriff for Philadelphia has been on the job just five days, but she is already making changes.

Four high-level employees of the sheriff's office were relieved of duty on Friday as the department's doors were closed to the public.

Employees coming in and out had nothing to say.

Sheriff sales have been suspended for 50 days and contracts with a pair of private companies that operated those sales - RCS Searchers and Reach Communications - were terminated immediately.

The new administration was taking the action because of alleged financial irregularities in the operation of Philadelphia sheriff sales.

There is a lot of money that is unaccounted for and former controller Joe Vingola was brought in to help sort out the mess.

"There are questions as to the internal controls and accountability for funds and where those funds are," Vingola said.

Efforts to reach the boss of RCS Searchers and Reach Communications, Jim Davis, were unsuccessful. Staffers said he was unavailable.

Friday's actions were driven by a forensic audit by the current city controller Alan Butkovitz. He says the irregularities appear to date back at least a decade and millions of dollars can't be accounted for.

"The problem is that there are tens of millions of dollars that do not add up between bank statements and the account records of the sheriff's office. There are tremendous inconsistencies," Butkovitz said. "So there's a question about whether certain liens, up to $88 million, were paid twice."

"The issue is whether the people who were supposed to get their money after the sale of their house got the money they were supposed to, or it went somewhere else," Butkovitz continued.

It is still unclear if a crime had been committed. However, the new sheriff contacted the district attorney to inform him of what was going on.