Thursday, August 28, 2014
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Kiefer gets house arrest in political corruption case

Judge took into account Rebecca Kiefer's public service, medical condition and the support of family and friends in the courtroom.

Kiefer gets house arrest in political corruption case

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Rebecca Kiefer outside county courtroom after being sentenced to house arrest. (Bill Reed/Staff)

Rebecca Kiefer, the fourth Bucks County official charged in the political corruption case that has rocked the Register of Wills office, was sentenced Tuesday to six- to 12 months of house arrest.

The sentence was less severe than the three- to six-month prison term that Candace Quinn received, although the two women pleaded guilty to the same offenses of forcing employees to work Election Day polls for Republican candidates, paying them with unauthorized comp time, and trying to cover up the practice.  

“I’m glad this is over and I can move on with my life,” Kiefer, 65, of Warrington, said after hugging and kissing supporters following the verdict. “This had encompassed every minute of the day. I feel fortunate to move on.”

In making his ruling, Philadelphia Judge John Braxton, who handled the politically charged case to any conflict of interest, noted the attendance of two dozen relatives and friends who filled half the gallery.

“I believe all the people who came here truly see something redeemable in you,” the judge told Kiefer. “They believe you can give something back” to the community. “I know you can.”

Braxton also cited Kiefer’s medical conditions, including diabetes, arthritis, spinal stenosis and hypertension, and her 25-year county career. She retired in 2010, one month before the District Attorney’s office began its investigation.

“Despite your maladies, you went to work,” the judge said. “The services you gave to county taxpayers were good services, done without favor or political consideration.”

Kiefer also was sentenced to 600 hours of community service, two-year’s probation on the charges of criminal conspiracy and theft, and was ordered to make restitution to the county of $6,533.25, a conservative estimate of the comp time paid to office workers.

District Attorney David Heckler said he was disappointed by the sentence.

“The judge was persuaded that her ailments were sufficient for her not going to jail," Heckler said. "I’m not sure it sent the message that needs to be sent to people who abuse the public trust.”

The biggest penalty for Kiefer, Quinn and Register of Wills Barbara Reilly was the loss of their pensions, Heckler said.

The comp time system instituted by Reilly was already in place when Kiefer started as a clerk in 1985, she testified. In those early years, she worked the polls like other employees, but she never took comp time because “I didn’t feel comfortable with it.”

She worked her way up to third in command, under Quinn and Reilly, who eventually became an absentee boss but who made all policy and disciplinary decisions, Kiefer said.

“I tolerated the comp time system — that was poor judgment, bad judgment,” Kiefer testified. “I was afraid of losing my job and my future. I truly thought that if I turned the other way and wasn’t responsible for it, I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Kiefer said she didn’t think she had forced employees to work the polls for Republican candidates, including herself for Warrington Township supervisor. “If they refused, I crossed them off the list.”

Kiefer also was charged with destroying evidence of the comp time, known as “pink time” because the records were kept on pink paper. She said the only documents she had shredded or deleted from her computer were from her role as a Warrington supervisor.

Her lawyer, Robert Goldman, also denied that Kiefer stole money the public paid to make copies. Kiefer had pleaded no contest to the theft charge, which showed that she wasn’t taking responsibility for all of her actions, Deputy District Attorney Robin Twombly said.

“She made some gross mistakes” with the comp time, Goldman said. “She is not a thief.”

Kiefer will pay for her actions for the rest of her life, Goldman said. She lost her county pension, worth more than $300,000, and her rights to vote and to carry a gun, he said.

The case would be a deterrent to Kiefer’s fellow public servants, Goldman said.
“Every worker in the courthouse now knows what comes of this kind of action — loss of money, position, public humiliation, and damage to reputation,” he said.

Outside the courtroom, two county workers were angry about Kiefer’s sentence.
Mary Ellen Jacoby said she worked in the Register of Wills office until Kiefer “made it so intolerable that I left.”

“Why were none of the workers under her called to testify or asked to write a letter,” Jacoby asked. “It’s unbelievable.”

The sentencing concludes the case that started nearly two years ago with an investigation by the controller’s office, leading to an eight-month grand jury investigation and last year’s charges.

Reilly, 75, of Bensalem, who was charged with presiding over the comp-time system but leaving the implementation to Kiefer and Quinn, was spared a prison term because of her age and declining health and is serving six months of house arrest.

The fourth official, First Deputy James McCullen, 76, of Bristol, received two years’ probation because his role was considered minor.

About this blog
Chris Palmer covers Bucks County for the Philadelphia Inquirer. His previous work has appeared in the New York Times and on several Times blogs, including City Room, the Local East Village and SchoolBook (which has since been taken over by WNYC). Contact him at cpalmer@phillynews.com, 610 313 8212 or on Twitter, @cs_palmer.

Ben Finley covers Bucks County for The Philadelphia Inquirer. He previously worked for The Associated Press, FactCheck.org and the Bucks County Courier Times, where he won more than a dozen journalism awards from organizations including the Education Writers Association, the Society for Features Journalism and the Pennsylvania Bar Association. He grew up in Columbus, Ohio and graduated with honors from The Ohio State University with a degree in journalism. Contact him at bfinley@phillynews.com, 610-313-8118 or on Twitter, @Ben_Finley.

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