Behind a curtain of silence from city officials, details are emerging that point to financial impropriety as the reason for the firing of the director of the city’s veterans office May 23.
A week earlier, the District Attorney’s Office seized a computer and other records from the City Hall office of Scott Brown, who headed Philadelphia’s Veterans Advisory Commission. On Thursday, the DA established a hotline so that “if anyone had paid a fee to the Philadelphia Veterans Advisory Commission they would have a place to go,” said DA spokesman Cameron Kline.
Why a hotline? Because the DA’s Office had received a “handful” of questions about fees, “such as legal fees, housing fees, disability-type stuff,” Kline said.
I wondered what fees the office might be charging for its services, plus a few other questions. I called Brown, he answered and said he was in a meeting, and promised to call back in a few minutes. He didn’t, nor has he spoken to other reporters since he was kicked out.
The commission was established by a City Council resolution in 1957 and is administered by Council President Darrell Clarke’s office. In a news release after Brown’s firing, Clarke said the commission “is being reorganized” and the position of director had been eliminated. No other explanation was given.
Meanwhile, I’ve learned that the Philadelphia Veterans Comfort House, a nonprofit “emergency situation shelter” for veterans at 4108 Baltimore Ave., West Philadelphia, believes it was defrauded by Brown to the tune of $12,000.
That story begins in late 2015, when Brown, a Navy veteran who served in the Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom, was organizing the city’s first Veterans Day parade. He had gotten the director’s job a year earlier and was “living the dream,” he told me during a 2015 interview in his City Hall office.
According to multiple sources, Brown promised the Comfort House any proceeds from the parade. Profit from a parade?
Philadelphia’s first Veterans Day parade took place on Sunday, Nov. 8, 2015. Guess what? No profit.
In any event, a few days after the parade, a dinner to benefit the Comfort House was held at the Union League, underwritten by John and Bernadette Heenan. She is vice president of the Comfort House.
“Scott Brown took a table for himself and his family,” said Ms. Heenan, saying she remembered the cost of a table for 10 was $1,000. “He and his family came, ate, and didn’t pay,” she told me.
A month later, at his home in Cherry Hill, Brown had a catered party, to which Bridget Gallagher, then the executive director of Comfort House, was invited, along with some high-profile guests.
It was there that a large, cardboard presentation check was given to Gallagher for Comfort House, even though the check was made out to “Philadelphia Vet House.” Close enough.
Turns out instead of cardboard the check should have been made of rubber. On second thought, maybe glue, because it stuck to Brown, according to three Comfort House officers.
Early in 2016, Dana Spain was recruited to be president of Comfort House’s board of directors, according to John Kihm, who stepped aside to make a place for Spain, who had skills the organization needed.
One of the first things on her plate was the missing $12,000, she told me.
At first, she was patient and listened to Brown’s excuses.
“For a year and a half, we’ve been jerked around” about the check, said an angry Spain. That money is sorely needed for many needed repairs, she said.
About that $12,000 check: In the memo field are the names of some local politicians including U.S. Rep Bob Brady, Council President Darrell Clarke, Councilman Mark Squilla, state Rep. Ed Neilson. The way it’s done, it looks like they were donors.
Brady, Clarke, and Neilson said they didn’t write a check. Squilla — who is a childhood friend of Brown’s — could not be reached.
Without hearing from Brown, I don’t know if money was there and went missing, or if no money was ever there at all.
The DA won’t say what he’s looking for, so, for now, we’ll just have to wonder what’s going on behind the curtain.