The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office is investigating the embezzlement of $210,000 from the region's publicly funded marketing agency and, in the process, reviewing how the agency dealt with the matter when it was uncovered two years ago.
The money had been used to pay for personal purchases by Visit Philadelphia's chief financial officer, Joyce Levitt, who was permitted to resign rather than face criminal charges when she made restitution. Visit Philadelphia handled the matter internally and did not report the misappropriation of funds - which extended over five years - to law enforcement.
Visit Philadelphia was notified of the district attorney's investigation in June when its chief executive officer, Meryl Levitz, received a request for documents from Yvonne J. Ruiz, an assistant district attorney in the economic and cyber crime unit, according to copies of the correspondence obtained by The Inquirer.
The prosecutor's office subsequently requested further details and extensive documentation. Visit Philadelphia was asked to provide the additional information by Friday.
Ruiz declined to comment. Levitz did not return a call for comment. Manuel N. Stamatakis, chairman of Visit Philadelphia's board, said that his organization would cooperate fully with the investigation, but that was uncertain if all the information requested would be available by Friday.
Stamatakis said Visit Philadelphia's full board, which includes Mayor Nutter and has not met since May, had yet to be formally told about the investigation, but would be informed at the next board meeting.
"We have a process we follow with personnel matters," Stamatakis said, noting that the investigation has been discussed by the board's audit committee. "At this point, there is not enough to tell the whole board. We are just working on it."
Visit Philadelphia is a nonprofit organization funded by the city's hotel tax. It has a budget of about $11 million and is charged with increasing leisure tourism to the region.
And Visit Philadelphia was the focus of a city controller's report released Tuesday that concluded there was too much overlap between it and the city's other marketing agency, the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau. The report recommended that the agencies be merged.
The misuse of funds and Visit Philadelphia's response surfaced in June when reporters examined the agency's most recent tax returns, which reported the misuse.
There had been no general public notification of the embezzlement or of Levitt's February 2012 resignation. Levitt went on to a job as director of finance for Benefits Data Trust, another nonprofit organization that receives the bulk of its funding from taxpayers in the form of government grants. She was let go after The Inquirer and the now-defunct news website AxisPhilly reported the misappropriation of funds at Visit Philadelphia.
Levitt could not be reached for comment. When the fund misuse surfaced, she described it to The Inquirer as "a disagreement over how money was being spent."
William Winning, an attorney representing Visit Philadelphia, told The Inquirer in June that "law enforcement was not contacted because we believed it was more appropriate to handle this internally. . . . Our primary concern was full restitution, which in fact was made." Winning declined to go into detail about how the funds had been misused.
In a letter to Ruiz dated July 17, Winning offered more background.
"The unauthorized expenditures on the part of Joyce Levitt were discovered during the course of a routine audit conducted by Asher & Co. in the spring of 2012," he wrote. "In short, Joyce Levitt, when confronted, was unable to explain or provide adequate documentation for certain expenditures/purchases made with the organization's American Express card. Her inability in this regard, and the subsequent discovery of additional unauthorized expenditures, led to a more complete review of Joyce Levitt's American Express expenses, as well as unauthorized payments made on her personal Visa account."
Winning's response triggered a further request from the District Attorney's office for information and documents, much of which would pertain to how Visit Philadelphia conducted itself after learning of the misuse of funds.
Among the additional information sought: who confronted Levitt, notes from the meeting, copies of board minutes for any meeting at which the matter was discussed, and the names of Levitt's direct supervisor, her supervisor's supervisor, and any board members to whom she reported.
"As I indicated in my previous letter," Ruiz wrote, "once I have had the opportunity to review all this information, I will be scheduling interviews with the individuals who are involved in this matter."