1 fired, 3 others charged in alleged fraud within Sheriff's Office

RICHARD BELL worked in the accounting department of the Sheriff's Office and made between $42,000 and $43,000 annually in recent years, according to city payroll records.

But, as federal prosecutors tell it, he was also a fraudster who flimflammed his employer.

Bell, 36, and three others were charged yesterday with a scam to bilk the office of more than $400,000.

Acting Sheriff Barbara Deeley said Bell was fired yesterday. Deeley said she began cleaning house shortly after becoming sheriff. She fired Bell's supervisor and five others in the real estate department, on Jan. 7.

Deeley, a longtime chief of staff and deputy to former Sheriff John Green, became acting sheriff after Green resigned under fire last year.

She said the Bell investigation had been ongoing for a year and that the Sheriff's Office had cooperated with investigators, which included two federal agencies, the District Attorney's Office, the city inspector general and city controller.

Besides Bell, others charged yesterday were Reginald Berry, 29; Robert Rogers, 44; and Jakiem Wright, 29, all of Philadelphia. All were charged with wire fraud by criminal information, a process that typically indicates plea deals are in the works.

Bell was also charged with filing a false tax return for 2009, failing to report more than $76,000 in income.

Bell was hired in November 2005. Authorities said that between 2007 and 2010 Bell wrote bogus checks to unauthorized individuals and companies that were drawn on bank accounts of the Sheriff's Office.

Bell allegedly forwarded over $400,000 of the checks to Rogers, who cashed checks and forwarded them to others to cash or deposit, prosecutors said.

Rogers allegedly forwarded more than $147,000 in checks payable to a company connected to Wright and Berry. Prosecutors said the group then shared in the proceeds. A recent audit of the Sheriff's Office by the city controller found a "suspicious check" for $147,000 that was issued for no apparent reason. The feds also said Bell helped an unidentified person in fraudulently purchasing properties at sheriff's sale for only 10 percent of the bid price.

If convicted, Bell could face 33 to 41 months in prison; Rogers 27 to 33 months, and Wright and Berry 15 to 21 months.