Health club memberships, political contributions, and $3,000 line-dancing lessons are among the expenses that a well-connected Philadelphia lobbyist is accused of illegally charging to a state grant program meant to help welfare recipients land steady jobs.
Now, Melonease Shaw - who has at times worked as the city's lobbyist in Harrisburg, and who was, until her arrest, seeking the job again - faces a court hearing next week on charges including theft, deceptive business practices, and tampering with public records.
The case, filed last month by the Attorney General's Office in district court in Harrisburg, centers on Shaw's work as president and CEO of the now-defunct nonprofit Transitional Work Corp.
The organization was founded in 1998 by the state, the city, and the Pew Charitable Trusts to provide job training and transitional employment to welfare recipients working their way off public assistance. Between 2007 and 2011, the year it shut down, it received $32 million in Department of Public Welfare grants.
Prosecutors say Shaw, 62, misused more than $250,000 during that period to purchase items not allowed under the grant.
Neither Shaw nor her lawyer returned calls for comment Monday.
Shaw has long been a fixture in city Democratic circles. Since 2007, she has contributed more than $40,000 to party candidates for city and state offices, and counted State Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Phila.) and the late School Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman as friends.
She has served on transition teams and government committees for Gov. Wolf and former Gov. Ed Rendell.
Her lobbying and marketing firm, Maven Inc., has counted SEPTA, Peco Energy, the School District, and SugarHouse Gaming among its clients, and has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in state and city money over the years, including $86,667 in lobbying contracts from the city in 2010 and 2011.
The criminal case filed against her last month had gone widely unnoticed outside Harrisburg. But there were signs Monday that it had begun to affect her work.
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board moved this month for an emergency suspension of her lobbying privileges on behalf of casinos.
Shaw had partnered with Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney in April to apply for a lobbying contract to represent the Kenney administration in Harrisburg.
Leslie Gromis Baker, chair of Buchanan Ingersoll's government affairs team, said the firm learned Monday about the charges.
"We're not quite sure how the city is going to handle that," she said.
The contract, initially scheduled to be awarded June 10, had been put on hold until at least August. On Monday, city spokeswoman Lauren Hitt said that the city would issue a new request for proposals for the contract.
"We won't be contracting with Melonease for lobbying services, even as a subcontractor," Hitt said.
According to the criminal complaint, Shaw's spending at Transitional Work Corp. first drew the attention of the Pennsylvania Office of the Inspector General in 2011.
In addition to personal expenses, she allegedly dispensed grant funds to cover more than $26,000 in catering expenses, $51,000 in transportation and parking fees for her staff, and more than $3,500 worth of flowers that she and other staff members charged to the nonprofit's corporate credit cards.
She also is accused of granting a heavily discounted sublease to Maven at the nonprofit's offices on the 14th floor of the Land Title Building at 100 S. Broad St.
Shaw and Maven have drawn scrutiny before.
In 2006, the company received $90,000 from the now-defunct Minority Venture Partners, a venture capital loan program set up to help minority business development. The program was a branch of the Philadelphia Commercial Development Corp., the quasi-government agency at the time run by Curtis Jones Jr., now a city councilman.
Maven, like a dozen other businesses that received a combined $1.5 million, failed to pay back the $90,000 loan. The city took Shaw to court and settled last year for $40,000.
The company was also cited in a 2009 Department of Public Welfare audit of Transitional Work Corp.'s grant spending - an investigation that uncovered allegations similar to those with which Shaw is now charged.
Auditors questioned the "seemingly unclear boundaries" between Maven and the government-funded nonprofit. It also found that nearly $5,000 in grant funds from that year had been misused, including money Shaw spent to buy airfare to the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver.
Shaw, in response to the audit, said at the time that she would seek to set up a payment plan to pay the $5,000 back.
She is free on a $25,000 unsecured bail pending a preliminary hearing scheduled for July 21.
WHERE THE MONEY ALLEGEDLY WENT
Amount of Department of Public Welfare grants Melonease Shaw is accused of misusing. Among the alleged expenditures:
Transportation and parking fees
for her staff.
Flowers that she and other staff members charged to the nonprofit's corporate credit cards.