Democratic committee members in Center City's Eighth Ward are being asked to sign declarations that they were "not offered anything of pecuniary value" to select State Sen. Larry Farnese as their leader.
The reason: FBI agents are asking questions.
The apparent cause of the investigation? Farnese spent $6,000 from his campaign account five months before the 2011 ward election to pay for a committeewoman's daughter's college semester abroad.
Three people connected to the ward election confirmed that they had been questioned by FBI agents.
Stephanie Singer, who stepped down as the Eighth Ward's leader in December 2011 as she prepared to be sworn in as a city commissioner, said agents questioned her about the election in December.
Two men who considered running for ward leader but backed out before the Dec. 7, 2011, election - Stephen Huntington and Gregg Kravitz - said they, too, had been questioned. Huntington was visited in December, Kravitz in February.
Gregory Harvey, an Eighth Ward cochairman and also a lawyer representing Farnese, said committee members had been told that "Sen. Farnese had arranged for the daughter of a member of the committee to have a scholarship to study abroad in a foreign country, and we infer that there had been an anonymous complaint that was done because of the election."
Harvey would not confirm that the FBI was investigating Farnese or name the committeewoman or her daughter.
Three people familiar with the matter identified the committeewoman as Ellen Chapman. Two of them pointed to a $6,000 payment from Friends of Farnese, the senator's political action committee, on July 8, 2011, to Bard College in Annandale, N.Y.
Farnese, who was elected without opposition, declined to comment Thursday. "I've been advised by my lawyers that at this time, I shouldn't discuss it," he said.
Patricia Hartman, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Philadelphia, said she could not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation.
Chapman did not respond to requests for comment. Stuart Patchen, her attorney, declined to comment.
Harvey said the ward's committee members had been asked to sign a "declaration" that they were "not offered anything of pecuniary value as consideration for supporting Lawrence Farnese in the ward election."
Harvey added that 40 people had agreed to sign and that most had done so. "No one has declined to agree," Harvey said.
Harvey would not say whether subpoenas had been issued or whether a federal grand jury was involved.
Singer said the FBI agents who questioned her asked about how ward elections are conducted. She said they did not ask about Chapman, who previously served as treasurer for her campaign.
Huntington and Kravitz would not discuss in detail what the agents asked about.
Farnese, a lawyer, was first elected to represent the Senate's First District in 2008 with the backing of then-State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo, a political patron who later served time in federal prison on public corruption charges.
Now seeking a third four-year term, Farnese appears to have a clear field.
There is no Republican candidate from the First District in the general election. And John Morley Jr. was removed from the April 26 Democratic primary ballot on March 31 after a Commonwealth Court judge ruled against him in a challenge to his nominating petitions.
Morley, who ran for the seat as a Democrat in 2000 and a Republican in 2004 and 2008, has appealed that decision to the state Supreme Court. Morley also was removed from the Democratic ballot in 2012.