A South Philadelphia man has been arrested on charges that he stole land owned by a neighborhood organization that he helped start decades ago, long before the city’s economic revival made the properties valuable.
Mark Meighan, 60, of Grays Ferry, was charged last week with theft by deception, records tampering, forgery, and other offenses, court filings show.
The Inquirer reported in October that Meighan was said to be under investigation over his handling of seven rowhouse-size parcels on South Dover Street, which he is accused of taking from the Guenther Street Civic Association neighborhood group.
Records show that he had deeded the properties — together worth upward of $300,000, based on other sales in the area — to himself for $1 each in September 2017.
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 last year that he had also openly discussed selling the properties to a developer or building houses on them himself.
Soaring property values in some Philadelphia neighborhoods have made the city an attractive hunting ground for real estate scammers, who in some cases forge deeds to seize ownership of homes and vacant lots they can flip.
Meighan, a retired treatment-plant manager with the Water Department, is accused of betraying the trust of longtime neighbors, who looked to him with increasing disappointment and anger as news of the accusations filtered through the community.
Brian Clinton, an assistant chief of staff for Mayor Jim Kenney whose parents grew up in Grays Ferry and continues to attend Mass there at St. Gabriel Catholic Church, said people were shocked that Meighan didn’t give up the properties of his own accord to regain his standing in the community.
“I don’t think anyone thought it would go this far,” he said. “He had his opportunity to make it right and he didn’t, so it’s just sad.”
Meighan’s lawyer, John D’Intino Jr., declined to comment on the arrest. Assistant District Attorney Kimberly Esack, who oversaw the probe into Meighan as head of the office’s Economic Crime Unit, declined through a spokesperson to be interviewed, citing the ongoing investigation.
The properties that Meighan is accused of stealing 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 to use as parking.
With property in Grays Ferry holding very little monetary value at the time, the parcels were offered for $1 each, although the buyers were required to pay $1,000 to fence them.
The Guenther Street group’s mission was to communally own and manage the lots that went unclaimed by owners of adjoining homes. Meighan and another neighbor, funeral-home operator William Shea, 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, with Shea serving as treasurer until he moved from the neighborhood in 2014.
Guenther Street treasurer duties fell to another neighbor until 2016, when Meighan took over the group’s finances, a community member told The Inquirer last year.
Management of the lots seemingly continued as before until the autumn of 2017, when the neighbor who served until 2016 as treasurer — and whose address was still on file with the city as the Guenther Street group’s official contact — received notices that the properties had changed hands.
A member of the Guenther Street Civic Association, identified in the arrest warrant by her initials, told police investigating the transaction last year that she “recently learned that GSCA no longer owns the properties, as they have been transferred into Meighan’s name,” according to the document. “Meighan is now collecting the rents for the parking space himself.”
Meighan also violated the group’s bylaws that require its executive board to approve any land sales, the member told investigators.
“He committed a crime against the public trust, and he’s being appropriately punished for it,” said Carmine Zulli, president of the nonprofit Grays Ferry Community Council. “It seems this is a step toward hopefully the situation being righted, at least from a community perspective.”
Meighan was arraigned July 27 after his arrest and released without bail. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Aug. 10.