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In charge of Philly elections, commissioner lost notary license for violating the law

Her lawyer says she is a ‘good person’ who made a mistake

Incumbent Lisa Marie Deeley speaks during an April debate for Democratic city commissioner candidates hosted by Penn Democrats and the League of Women Voters of Philadelphia.
Incumbent Lisa Marie Deeley speaks during an April debate for Democratic city commissioner candidates hosted by Penn Democrats and the League of Women Voters of Philadelphia.Read moreTIM TAI / Staff Photographer

City Commissioners Chairwoman Lisa Marie Deeley, who is facing election in the May primary, quietly lost her notary license last year for failing to check the identification of a woman whose signature she notarized.

In doing so, Deeley approved documents that fraudulently deprived a woman of her right to her husband’s death benefits. The husband was an acquaintance of Deeley’s and in the midst of a contentious divorce.

Asked about the lifetime loss of her license, Deeley initially denied that she had been sanctioned by the state.

“I didn’t do anything wrong. I just surrendered my notary,” she said last week. “My notary was not relinquished because of any disciplinary action.”

Told that The Inquirer had reviewed the consent agreement, in which she agreed she had violated notary rules, Deeley acknowledged that her license was revoked but claimed she was a victim of a couple going through a nasty divorce. She then challenged many of the facts listed in the agreement she signed with the Pennsylvania Department of State last year.

Later, Deeley’s attorney, James C. Crumlish III, confirmed those facts while describing his client as a “good person” who made a mistake by taking the word of an acquaintance when she should have demanded identification.

“It was a couple of people who lied about their identity,” said Crumlish, a former city commissioner who is a candidate to become a Common Pleas Court judge.

Deeley, 52, is a longtime fixture in city government. The daughter of former Sheriff Barbara Deeley, she worked for years as an aide to current mayoral candidate Alan Butkovitz when he was a state representative and later city controller.

A Democrat, she was elected in 2015 to be a city commissioner, part of a bipartisan board that oversees the integrity of elections in Philadelphia. She was voted chairperson in 2017. As chair, she is paid $140,000 a year. She is among 13 Democrats seeking her party’s nomination to one of two commission positions on the general election ballot in November.

She had been a notary for 24 years until her license was revoked last August. On average, the State Department has revoked about 20 notary licenses a year since 2014, records show, out of 74,000 in Pennsylvania. Her notary licence was unrelated to her position as a city commissioner and is not necessary for her to serve in that office.

According to the consent agreement Deeley signed, in April 2010 and January 2011 she notarized documents brought to her by Charles J. Costello, 50, of Ambler, and a woman who presented herself as Costello’s wife, Lynda. Deeley did not check the woman’s identification before notarizing her signature on waivers that renounced her claim to death benefits afforded to Costello’s wife through his job.

The woman was an impostor.

In her defense, Deeley argued that she knew Charles Costello personally and that he had said the woman was his wife, whom she had never met. She said she believed that was enough confirmation for her to notarize the signature of the impostor, according to the consent agreement.

The Department of State disagreed and revoked her license for life. The department noted that beyond failing to check the woman’s identification, Deeley also did not log the action in her notary records as required.

Despite having agreed to those facts in surrendering her notary license, Deeley recently insisted to a reporter that the woman who appeared before her was Costello’s wife and not an impostor.

“She was personally known to me,” Deeley said. “The woman absolutely was present.”

And she contended that Lynda Costello was lying to get back at her then-husband.

“I am a victim of that quarrel,” Deeley said.

Deeley said she knew Charles Costello because he was an employee of a close friend.

The real Lynda Costello – who has legally changed her name to Lynda Bowman — said in an interview that she was stunned by Deeley’s contention that they knew one another and that she signed the waivers.

Bowman, 47, of Northeast Philadelphia, said she has never met Deeley. She said that on the dates the documents were notarized, she and Charles Costello were not on speaking terms. Their divorce was finalized in 2013, she said.

Bowman said she first learned of the falsified documents when she called her husband’s union to ask how benefits might be affected when her divorce was finalized, and a union representative mentioned that she had signed the spousal waivers. She said she promptly contacted police and later the Department of State.

Bowman said she was interviewed by a Department of State investigator in 2015 but had not seen the consent agreement until a reporter gave her a copy.

And the Deeley case still is not fully resolved.

As a condition of allowing Deeley to settle, the Department of State required her to turn over copies of her notary book to the city’s Department of Records within 30 days of the agreement.

City spokesperson Mike Dunn last week said that Deeley had not submitted those records.