A Philadelphia politician Hall of Shame
Councilperson Bobby Henon joins Philadelphia's political Hall of Shame.
Here are some elected officials from Philadelphia who were involved in corruption cases and were convicted, or pleaded guilty or no contest. The list does not include judges.
Michael J. Myers
“Ozzie” Myers, elected in 1976 to represent South Philadelphia in Congress, was ensnared in the FBI’s Abscam sting in 1979. He was caught on videotape accepting a suitcase with $50,000 in cash from an FBI undercover agent masquerading as a bagman for a fictitious Arab sheikh. The tape also recorded Myers saying, “Money talks in this business, and bull- walks.” Myers was expelled from the House in 1980, convicted of bribery and conspiracy charges, and sentenced to three years in prison in 1981. In 2020, Myers, working as a campaign consultant, was charged by federal prosecutors with paying a South Philadelphia judge of elections to fraudulently add votes for candidates who had hired him for their races from 2014 to 2016.
Raymond F. Lederer
Ray Lederer, from Pennsylvania’s Third Congressional District, also was caught in the Abscam sting. Despite the corruption allegations, he won reelection in 1980, but resigned from Congress a year later after his conviction. Lederer served 10 months in prison, and died in his Fishtown childhood home in 2008.
Chaka Fattah, a Democrat who represented the Second Congressional District from 1995 to 2016, was convicted in 2016 for stealing federal grant funds, charitable donations, and campaign cash. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, one of the longest terms of incarceration ever imposed on a member of Congress for federal corruption crimes. Fattah was released in 2020 to serve the rest of his sentence either in a halfway house or under house arrest.
Henry J. Cianfrani
“Buddy” Cianfrani pleaded guilty in 1977 to charges of racketeering, bribery, and obstruction of justice, and pleaded no contest to tax evasion for arranging no-work jobs on the Senate payroll for “ghost employees,” and for accepting bribes to influence the admission of students to medical and veterinary schools. Upon Cianfrani’s release from prison in 1980, friends and political allies of the cigar-smoking power-broker with an earthy charm gave him a party at Palumbo’s in South Philadelphia. Cianfrani later became an influential South Philadelphia ward leader before his death in 2002.
Vincent J. Fumo
For decades, Vince Fumo was the top Philadelphia Democrat in the legislature. But in 2009, a federal jury found that he had defrauded the Senate and two nonprofit organizations, and staged a cover-up in a failed bid to thwart the FBI and federal prosecutors. Prosecutors said Fumo hired cronies for no-show state jobs, used taxpayer money to hire a private eye to spy on romantic and political rivals, and hired a big staff to illegally serve as his servants and political foot soldiers. Fumo was released from federal prison in August 2013, and began advising corporate clients on how to work the levers of government.
LeAnna M. Washington
LeAnna Washington, a Democrat who represented parts of Philadelphia and Montgomery County, pleaded guilty to felony conflict-of-interest charges in 2014. Prosecutors alleged Washington used her staff to plan her annual birthday party campaign fund-raisers from 2005 to 2013, using up to $100,000 in taxpayer money for political gain. A grand jury report said Washington berated her chief of staff when he questioned the propriety of ordering staffers to do political work on government time. “I am the f-ing senator, I do what the f- I want, and ain’t nobody going to change me,” she told him.
John M. Perzel
John Perzel, a Republican from Northeast Philadelphia and a former House speaker, was sentenced in 2012 to 30 to 60 months in prison for his role as the mastermind of a scheme to use taxpayer-paid computer programs to win political campaigns. Perzel pleaded guilty and said at his sentencing:
I “embarrassed myself, my family, my friends, the people of Pennsylvania, and I am truly sorry.”
Ronald D. Waters, Michelle F. Brownlee, Louise Williams Bishop, and Harold James
The four Philadelphia Democrats were caught in a sting operation taking money or gifts from a lobbyist in exchange for official favors. Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane, a Democrat, secretly ended the sting operation in 2013 without bringing any criminal charges. She said the investigation was poorly handled and biased in targeting African Americans. The case was later resurrected by Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams. Waters, James, and Brownlee pleaded guilty in 2015 to conflict-of-interest violations. Bishop pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge in 2015. All four resigned from office but kept their taxpayer-paid pensions.
The North Philadelphia Democrat and first Latina elected to the state House was forced to resign in 2016 after her House colleagues discovered she had run for reelection and won despite secretly pleading guilty to a felony crime that year. Acosta had insisted she could remain in her post despite state constitutional provisions barring felons from holding elected office. She was sentenced to seven months in federal prison in 2018.
Movita Johnson-Harrell pleaded guilty in 2020 to theft and related charges in a case in which state prosecutors allege she stole more than $500,000 from her own nonprofit and spent it on family vacations, designer clothing, furs, and personal bills. Under a negotiated plea deal, she was sentenced to 11½ to 23 months in county jail, plus two years’ probation.
George X. Schwartz
George Schwartz was a city councilman for 20 years and was Council president for eight, but his career began to unravel when he was caught on tape accepting $30,000 from undercover FBI agents in the Abscam corruption sting. Promising to use his influence to sway other Council members, Schwartz said, “We got five or six members. You tell me your birthday. I’ll give them to you for your birthday.” Schwartz was convicted in 1980 of conspiracy and extortion, and spent one year in prison. He died in 2010. Two other Council members, Harry P. Jannotti and Louis C. Johanson, were also nabbed in the Abscam sting.
Leland M. Beloff
Lee Beloff resigned from Council in 1987 after being convicted in federal court of extortion in a plot with former mob boss Nicodemo “Little Nicky” Scarfo to extort $1 million from developer Willard M. Rouse III. He was paroled in 1994 after serving five years of a 10-year prison sentence.
James J. Tayoun
Jimmy Tayoun was charged in 1991 with 10 counts of racketeering, mail fraud, tax evasion, and obstruction of justice in connection with the payment and receipt of money in exchange for political favors. Tayoun avoided trial by pleading guilty days after being indicted, and spent 40 months in prison. He died in 2017.
Richard T. Mariano
Rick Mariano was convicted in 2006 of conspiracy, bribery, money laundering, fraud and tax charges for accepting nearly $30,000 from businessmen in exchange for regulatory favors, tax breaks, cheap city land, and a suspect schools contract.
Council member for the 6th District in Northeast Philadelphia since 2012, Henon was convicted in 2021 along with labor leader John J. Dougherty on federal bribery charges. A jury found that Henon had sold his Council vote to Dougherty, the former leader of the Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers where Henon long held a side job outside of City Hall, using the powers of his office to advance Dougherty’s personal and political interests in exchange for a $70,000-a-year salary. Henon resigned from Council on Thursday. He had previously said that he would hold on his seat until his sentencing on Feb. 22.
Williams became the first African American to be elected a district attorney in Pennsylvania in 2009, and easily won reelection in 2013. Reports of exchanging gifts for favors, and neglecting to report campaign contributions resulted in a federal indictment on 23 counts in March. Williams pleaded guilty to one of the counts in a plea deal with prosecutors in 2017.