A South Philadelphia man charged with stealing land owned by a neighborhood organization that he helped start decades ago has agreed to return the property to the group in a deal that likely spares him from being punished in the theft.
Mark Meighan, 61, said in a recent hearing that he would transfer the seven rowhouse-sized lots in his longtime neighborhood of Grays Ferry back to the group, the Guenther Street Civic Association, according to a summary from the hearing shared Tuesday by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office.
Meighan was arrested last summer on charges of theft by deception, records tampering, forgery and other offenses, nearly a year after The Inquirer reported on neighbors’ complaints about his actions.
Those charges will be dismissed under the city’s “Accelerated Rehabilitation Disposition” program once Meighan transfers the lots back to the group “at his own expense and in a prompt manner,” according to the summary from the July 30 hearing.
Two members of the group appeared in court to support the ARD arrangement, according to the summary. The return of the lots had been “the most pressing consideration” for the group members whose complaint prompted the investigation into Meighan, a District Attorney’s office lawyer said at the hearing.
An association member confirmed to The Inquirer that he supported the arrangement in the interest of maintaining neighborhood harmony, but asked not to be identified. Meighan’s lawyer, John D’Intino Jr., did not return a phone message seeking comment.
The properties that Meighan took for himself are on the 1400 block of South Dover Street, an area of vacant lots sandwiched between South 29th Street and South Newkirk Street, south of Reed Street and north of Dickinson Street.
That section of Dover Street was once called Guenther Street, which is how the Guenther Street Civic Association got its name. The group was formed in the late 1990s after homeowners on 29th and Newkirk Streets were given the option of buying the then-city-owned properties directly behind their homes on Dover Street for $1 each to use as parking.
The Guenther Street group’s mission was to communally own and manage lots that went unclaimed by owners of adjoining homes. Meighan and another neighbor were signatories on the deeds transferring those properties to the group in 1999.
Over the years, the Guenther Street group rented some of the parking spaces to other Grays Ferry neighbors to cover property taxes and other expenses. Meighan took over the group’s finances in 2016.
Records show that Meighan deeded the properties — together worth upward of $300,000, based on other sales in the area — to himself for $1 each in September of the following year.
After taking ownership of the parcels, Meighan allegedly continued to collect payments from people who parked at the properties, keeping the cash for himself, according to the warrant for his arrest.
Neighbors told The Inquirer in 2019 that the retired treatment-plant manager with the Water Department had also openly discussed selling the properties to a developer or building houses on them himself.