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Former Nutter aide Peterkin Bell loses board memberships, teaching gig after felony charges

A day after former City Representative Desiree Peterkin Bell was accused of stealing and misusing public funds through a city-run nonprofit, her name had already been scrubbed from organizations where she has been involved.

Desiree Peterkin-Bell with former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter.
Desiree Peterkin-Bell with former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter.Read moreFor the Inquirer/Maggie Henry Corcoran

A day after former City Representative Desiree Peterkin Bell was accused of stealing and misusing public funds through a city-run nonprofit, her name has already been scrubbed from organizations with which she had been involved.

Peterkin Bell's name was removed from the website for the state's Advisory Commission for African American Affairs. She resigned from that post in an email Monday afternoon, a spokesman said.

Her biography also no longer appeared on the website of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication, where she had been a lecturer in urban communications, teaching a course she designed.

"She will not be teaching at Penn in the future," a university spokeswoman said. "Her relationship with the Annenberg School has concluded."

Both were part of the backlash for the 40-year-old woman who over a decade built a strong resumé in Democratic and city government circles and now is seeing it collapse after being arraigned Tuesday on charges that she stole and misused $245,000 in taxpayer money.

Peterkin Bell has denied the accusations, which came after a 14-month grand jury investigation. "It's devastating professionally, as you can imagine," Peterkin Bell's attorney, Walter Weir Jr., said Wednesday, a day after she was released on her own recognizance.

The grand jury found that when Peterkin Bell oversaw the Mayor's Fund — a nonprofit intended to advance the mayor's policy goals — she charged $20,000 to the fund's credit cards for her personal use, including for shopping, vacations, and dinners at fancy restaurants. Investigators also said she took $225,000 in city money allocated to fund a cycling race and used it to pay debts for other events that she, as city representative, had been responsible for getting financed through donations or grants.

Peterkin Bell took on that role in 2012. Mayor Michael Nutter had hired her as his director of communications in 2010. She left in 2011 to work as a communications adviser in President Barack Obama's reelection campaign but returned the next year to City Hall.

As city representative, she became the de facto chair of the Mayor's Fund, which was supposed to advance the mayor's policy goals and promote the city with about $10 million annually in grants. She was paid a $165,600 salary.

The Inquirer and Daily News reported that in 2015, Peterkin Bell failed to offer detailed explanations for $52,000 worth of charges she made on American Express and Wells Fargo MasterCard credit cards issued by the fund.

When she left the job the following January, the executive director of the fund asked then-City Controller Alan Butkovitz to look at the grant-making policies of the fund. Butkovitz found that Peterkin Bell had treated the nonprofit like a "slush fund" and asked the state attorney general to investigate.

After leaving City Hall, Peterkin Bell had started her own public relations firm, DPBell & Associates. She also lists on her website that she is a founding member of the Walnut Club of Philadelphia, a business networking and social organization. (The grand jury report says Peterkin Bell used one of the Mayor's Fund's credit cards to pay $500 in annual dues for the Walnut Club.)

When reached Wednesday, Walnut Club president Marla McDermott said Peterkin Bell was a member of the club only for its first year.

"We have no affiliation with her. This whole situation is very unfortunate," McDermott said.

Among her other claimed affiliations was the Vision 2020 coalition, which works for the advancement of girls and women in the United States and listed Bell as one of its 13 Pennsylvania delegates. When contacted Wednesday, a coalition spokesperson said the delegates' "level of involvement varies, and Desiree Peterkin Bell's participation has been very limited in recent years."

The spokesperson, Kathleen McFadden, said the organization "will closely monitor ongoing developments related to these charges to best inform Peterkin Bell's future delegate status."

Peterkin Bell also mentions on her website that she is a member of the Union League of Philadelphia. Under rules at the club, she can be removed from the rolls only if other members file a complaint against her. It was unclear Wednesday if any had done so.

Peterkin Bell, who branded herself on social media with the hashtag #PurposeNotPosition, has touted her status as the author of two "best-seller" books. She contributed an essay for a book published last year by a company that charges some authors to participate. Peterkin Bell at the time said she had not paid to be published.

An avid Twitter user, Peterkin Bell continued tweeting and retweeting before and after her arraignment. But none of her tweets was related to her case.