Let’s pretend they’re not crooks and take a look

Renee Tartaglione leaving Federal Court with her husband, Carlos Matos.

Let’s suspend disbelief and operate on the assumption that they are all innocent, the House of Capulet and the House of Montague.

Wait! That’s Romeo and Juliet.

Change that to the House of Tartaglione and the House of Acosta.

We also change the scene from Verona, Italy, to a swatch of central Philadelphia where two Democratic dynasties are ratting each other out and the victims are Philadelphia citizens and taxpayers. 

Forget the charges of fraud, theft, and corruption. Jeremy Roebuck’s story invites students of Philadelphia politics and entitlement to peek inside the sausage factory.

First, the cast of characters. Renee Tartaglione is charged with 53 counts of fraud, theft, conspiracy, and tax evasion. Renee’s mother was combative Marge Tartaglione, a ward leader and longtime chair of the City Commission, which oversees city elections. Marge was besties with City Councilwoman Joan Krajewski, whom legendary Inquirer columnist Steve Lopez memorably nicknamed the Boom Boom Sisters along with former Councilwoman Ann Land. Another daughter of Marge’s is state Sen. Christine Tartaglione.

Renee is charged with embezzling $1 million over five years in connection with the Juniata Community Health Clinic, a taxpayer-funded addiction center in Fairhill. She at one time had been both board president and landlord.

Prosecutors say she moved the clinic into properties she owned so she could charge exorbitant rents.

Even if the rents weren’t exorbitant — we are suspending disbelief, remember — how does that happen? Is this a good practice? Doesn’t anyone see the potential for conflict of interest? Was the board signing off on that, or was that hidden from them?

Renee earlier had been employed by her mother in the City Commissioners office. She was forced to resign after the Philadelphia Board of Ethics accused her of politicking on the job, which is forbidden.

Renee founded the clinic in 2002 with her husband, Carlos Matos, also a ward leader and a man who had served time for bribing three Atlantic City councilmen.

Renee became president of the health clinic in 2007, while still on her mother’s payroll. She stacked the board with friends, including Sandy Acosta, another ward leader and ex-wife of former state Rep. Ralph Acosta.

Sandy hired her daughter Leslie, who would become a state rep later forced to resign after a conviction for conspiracy to commit money laundering at that health clinic.

Mother and daughter and a third employee admitted accepting checks for thousands of dollars from the clinic for work they did not perform. Each claims they kicked back money to Tartaglione.

Matos was involved in trying to oust and replace Leslie last year.

The Tartaglione and Acosta dynasties now are accusing each other of being corrupt.

Tartaglione is currently on trial. The Acostas have been adjudicated, but there’s more.

It can’t be disputed that Tartaglione moved the health clinic office into one building she owned, and then another.

Putting aside how much she charged for rent, how can this remotely be an accepted practice?

And yet it was. Putting aside the accusation of theft and kickbacks, couldn’t any rational person see that this thing was wired from the jump and that no possible good could come from it?

If it turns out Renee is found guilty, then we’re looking at a disgusting theft of services from the poor people who need help most.

Time will tell about that, but in the meantime you look through this story and a couple of words keep coming up: ward leader.

On Wall Street, this would be insider trading. In Philadelphia, all too often, it's Democratic politics.