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Ex-head of the troubled Germantown Special Services District is accused of stealing more than $125,000

Prosecutors say Ingrid Shepard, the organization's former president, used taxpayer dollars she took to cover personal expenses and support two nonprofits she controlled.

A file photo of trash along the intersection of Chelten and Germantown Avenues in July 2019.
A file photo of trash along the intersection of Chelten and Germantown Avenues in July 2019.Read moreSTEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer

The former head of a now-defunct Germantown neighborhood group controlled by appointees of City Councilmember Cindy Bass stole more than $125,000 from the organization before she was asked to resign in 2019, federal prosecutors say.

Authorities allege Ingrid Shepard, the former president and treasurer of the Germantown Special Services District, used taxpayer dollars she took between 2015 and 2018 to cover personal expenses and support two nonprofits she controlled.

She faces one count of wire fraud — a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison. She was charged earlier this week by way of a criminal information instead of an indictment, typically a sign that a defendant has already agreed to plead guilty.

Shepard, 44, did not immediately respond to calls for comment, and it was not clear from court records whether she had retained an attorney.

The case against her comes nearly three years after the Germantown Special Services District fell dormant when more than 100 commercial property owners voted in 2019 not to reauthorize its taxing authority.

Boasting an annual budget in 2018 of $230,000, the organization had been funded through a special property tax levied on local businesses that was meant to pay for trash removal, street and sidewalk cleaning, and other neighborhood beautification efforts.

Bass, a Democrat who represents Germantown and much of Northwest Philadelphia on City Council, directly appointed the special services district’s leadership and board.

In a statement, she said the district’s board dismissed Shepard after discovering the financial discrepancies and that she had not regularly filed required financial reports.

“The fact that allegedly did not occur concerns me a great deal,” she said. “I want to see justice done and will be paying close attention to this case. I do not ever want to see any misappropriation of taxpayer dollars, which negatively impacts confidence in the system. The residents of the entire city of Philadelphia deserve better.”

Government court filings do not specify exactly what Shepard spent the money on except to say she used her access to the special services district’s bank account to divert funds to her personal accounts and to her two nonprofits — Run Germantown, an annual race in the neighborhood, and The One Less Foundation, a charitable organization aimed at enhancing financial literacy and providing education to families seeking to rise out of poverty, according to its website.

The website of the latter organization describes Shepard as the owner of her own financial consulting firm who has lived in the Germantown area for nearly 20 years, after moving to Philadelphia from Denver.

In March, City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart announced that her office had completed an audit of the special services district after receiving complaints from business owners about misspent funds. She did not publicly release the findings of the probe at the time and instead handed them over to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for potential prosecution.

Prosecutors declined to discuss Friday whether the charges against Shepard signaled a wider investigation of the special services district’s spending or the leadership of Bass’ appointees.

U.S. District Judge R. Barclay Surrick has not yet set a hearing in Shepard’s case.

Editor’s note: A print version of this article published May 14 in The Inquirer included a photo of Councilmember Cindy Bass near a one-word headline that said “Fraud.” The juxtaposition of the headline and the photo of Ms. Bass could be misinterpreted by readers as a judgment applying to the Council member, when that is not the case. We regret the error and apologize to Ms. Bass.