The former City of Philadelphia official who oversaw events including the Mummers Parade, the Broad Street Run, and the Philadelphia Marathon was sentenced Wednesday to 15 months in federal prison for looting $150,000 from city-managed bank accounts.
Leo Dignam, a former assistant managing director, pleaded guilty last year to charges of wire fraud and embezzlement, admitting he took the money to pay personal expenses, his phone and credit card bill, and to donate to a scholarship fund sponsored by his family between 2012 and 2019.
“I am truly sorry and heartsick over my actions,” Dignam, 61, told U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno at his sentencing. “I spent most of my life trying to help people in the city, but my actions did the opposite.”
Dignam has since paid the money back. But his abrupt resignation last fall after his crimes came to light caught many at City Hall off guard — chiefly because over his four-decade career he had established a reputation as a dedicated public servant and an ever-present face coordinating many of the city’s largest annual events.
The news was also surprising because his brother, Paul Dignam, 58, also a longtime city employee, was charged the same day for committing similar theft.
Prosecutors say the siblings were unaware of each other’s crimes. But both took advantage of the lax oversight of city bank accounts that hold money raised to support local rec centers, playgrounds, and community programs.
Paul Dignam, a former manager for the Department of Parks and Recreation, pleaded guilty last year, admitting he stole $119,000 from one of those community advisory council accounts. He is scheduled to be sentenced this month.
Leo Dignam — who served as the parks department’s deputy commissioner for programs before his role in the Managing Director’s Office — pilfered an account established in the name of the nonprofit Junior Baseball Federation to fund youth sports programs.
“The men, women and children of Philadelphia were actively disadvantaged because our city was unable to devote these embezzled funds to things like community events, educational programming, youth sports and the like,” Philadelphia Inspector General Alexander DeSantis said in a letter submitted to the court.
Asked by the judge to explain those crimes Wednesday, Dignam’s lawyer, Arthur Donato Jr., chalked it up to “human weakness and greed,” and urged Robreno to sentence his client to probation, arguing he had already lost his pension, his $116,000-a-year job, his $300,000 DROP payment, and his reputation.
He cited Dignam’s otherwise unquestionable dedication to the city and his community, a record extolled in more than 200 letters to the judge from supporters including former coworkers, the leaders of several Mummers brigades, State Rep. Michael Driscoll as well as City Councilmembers Mark Squilla, Brian J. O’Neill, and Bobby Henon.
“For someone like him who led a life before this that was unblemished, this was like getting hit in the head by a two-by-four,” Donato said. “Enough is enough.”
But Deputy U.S. Attorney Louis D. Lappen balked at that suggestion, noting that poorer defendants routinely go to prison for stealing far less. Dignam, he said, had much more to lose and committed his crimes anyway.
“This defendant shouldn’t be able to buy his way out of [prison] because he’s a more privileged person,” Lappen said. “The public has to see that the criminal justice system punishes white-collar criminals and doesn’t let them buy their way out of a prison sentence.”
Ultimately, Robreno agreed, citing both the seven-year span of Dignam’s embezzlement and the damage his theft did not only to the Parks and Recreation Department but the public trust in city workers.
“The public trust is the most sacred possession of a democratic society,” he said. “A jail sentence is the best antidote to public corruption.”