Before the child-porn charges, Phil Ahr mentored Philadelphia schoolchildren

In 2013 — a year authorities say Philip Ahr was sending and seeking hundreds of sordid child-pornography files — he was featured on his company’s blog accepting a philanthropy award from the principal of a Northwest Philadelphia elementary school.

For about 19 years, the Radnor Township commissioner, and current president of the board, mentored students at Cook-Wissahickon, a K-8 school in Roxborough “adopted” by his company, Progressive Business Publications, the Inquirer and Daily News have learned.

As he worked to serve as a role model for the youngsters, investigators say, he was logging onto chat rooms as “Daddy X” or “Daddy XX,” viewing and distributing porn depicting children — including infants — being abused by adults, sadomasochistic sexual abuse, and abuse involving animals. A spokeswoman for the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office said Thursday that the office was aware of Ahr’s involvement with the program, and that it was part of the investigation.

The 66-year-old Bryn Mawr man surrendered Wednesday on child-pornography and related charges and was released on bail. Ahr and his lawyer, Mark Much, have declined comment.

Camera icon Delaware County District Attorney
Radnor Township Commissioners President Philip Ahr

Authorities said Wednesday they believed Ahr’s crimes were contained to the internet and did not involve contact with children.

The Philadelphia School District and Progressive Business Publications (PBP) confirmed that Ahr, PBP’s marketing director, had been one of the mentors at the school in past years. They said Ahr had not had any contact with children there since May.

“We never had any complaints,” said Kevin Geary, a district spokesman. “People were never left alone with children.”

PBP said in a statement Thursday that the outreach was “not a one-on-one mentoring program. It pairs one student with one mentor, but students and mentors are never completely alone.”

Efforts Thursday to reach parents of Cook-Wissahickon students in the program were unsuccessful.

To work with students, Ahr underwent a background check, Geary said. Authorities said Ahr had no criminal record.

In a September 2012 YouTube video posted by the company, Ahr discussed the mentorship program, which began in 1997.

“It is a lot of fun,” Ahr said. “We mentor fourth- to sixth-grade students who have been identified as somebody who can benefit from that.”

“Our founder and president, Ed Satell, his philosophy is that great companies need to give back to their communities,” Ahr added, “to make it a great community for people to work in and be part of.”

Satell deferred requests for comment Thursday to a spokeswoman, who responded with a statement that read in part:

“While the present allegations have nothing to do with his work at the company and the company had no knowledge of his activities during his personal time, on the same day the company became aware of the charges filed against the employee in question, he was placed on administrative leave for the duration of the investigation.”

According to company emails obtained by the Inquirer and Daily News, Ahr’s status changed late Wednesday after employees voiced “concern.”

A memo sent around 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, and signed by executive chairman Satell, read: “Despite the seriousness of the charges, there is nothing to indicate that it would be inappropriate to permit [Ahr] to continue to perform his job duties here, or that he is unable to competently do so consistent with high standards of conduct, as he has done for more than 40 years. Therefore, we do not expect this to affect his employment status.”

“We wish him and his family well during this difficult time,” the email continued. “If anyone has any concerns they are welcome to visit HR.”

Around 7 p.m., another email went out, also signed by Satell.

“Given the concern that people have expressed,” that email read, “Phil Ahr will not be on site for the time being.”

On Thursday, Satell sent out another internal memo, apologizing to “any employee who may have found my communication yesterday upsetting” and stressing that he did not condone Ahr’s alleged behavior. He said Ahr had been placed on administrative leave “as more information has unfolded about the allegations overnight and this morning,” and noted Ahr no longer had access to the company’s building in Malvern, according to the email.

As for Ahr’s position as president of the Radnor Township Board of Commissioners, acting President Elaine Schaefer said Thursday afternoon that Ahr had not responded to messages asking for his resignation. Under the board charter, Ahr — a Democrat who has served as president since April 2016 — cannot be removed unless he is convicted of a crime.

Ahr also served as parish council president at Our Mother of Good Counsel Catholic Church in Bryn Mawr, according to a township biography. A receptionist in the parish office directed all inquires to the Philadelphia Archdiocese, which did not return a request for comment.

Ahr, a University of Notre Dame graduate, is a nephew of the late Bishop George W. Ahr, who served as the head of the Trenton Diocese for 30 years. George Ahr retired in 1980 and died in 1993.

Camera icon David Swanson
Radnor Township Commissioner Philip Ahr is walked to his arraignment at District Court in Newtown Square on charges of distributing and possessing child pornography.

In Bryn Mawr, a neighbor of Ahr’s, who spent many hours with him at township events, said Ahr’s public persona was in stark contrast to the allegations against him.

“You had community Phil and basement Phil,” said the neighbor. “I never once was fearful of him around my children.”

Just a few weeks ago, Ahr presided over the dedication of a new playground.

“He was walking around, handing out meals to kids,” the neighbor said. “He was everything you would want in a local elected official.”

 

Staff writer Kristen A. Graham contributed to this article.