Philly sheriff's office workers fired before new boss is sworn in

Acting Philadelphia Sheriff Barbara Deeley cleaned house this week, firing non-civil-service employees at the troubled department in advance of a new sheriff's swearing-in Monday.

Through a statement issued by a consultant, Deeley refused to say how many people were discharged.

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Barbara Deeley , acting sheriff .

She did say the firings were done in consultation with the sheriff-elect, State Rep. Jewell Williams. Those discharged were office staff who handle foreclosure sales.

Payroll records show that the office has about 22 nonuniformed patronage jobs. A person familiar with the office said about 17 people were in those jobs and that a majority had been laid off.

The highest ranking of the employees is Joseph C. Vignola, the former city controller and councilman hired by Deeley as her top deputy at the start of 2011. It was not clear Friday whether Vignola would be retained, and he did not return calls seeking comment.

Williams will take over an office under federal investigation, with financial controls that have been sharply criticized by the city controller.

On Election Night, Williams told supporters, "We campaigned on transparency and open records. We are now going to work very hard to keep those promises."

Tens of millions of dollars in unclaimed cash piled up in department accounts over the last decade when the office was run by Sheriff John D. Green. Much of that money, amounting to about $55 million, is owed to people who lost homes through foreclosure sales.

Deeley's statement, issued by consultant Ken Smukler, said the "remake" of the Sheriff's Office was done in conjunction with Williams.

Williams has represented western North Philadelphia in the legislature since 2000. Previously he was chief of criminal operations for the Sheriff's Office, whose uniformed members provide courthouse security and transport prisoners, among other duties.

"From the day after Jewell Williams was elected sheriff, I and his transition team began working together through a transition process," Deeley said in the statement. "This process was designed to give the sheriff-elect an opportunity to remake the Office of Sheriff and redefine its priorities on Day One of the new administration."

Williams could not be reached for comment, according to Harriet Lessy, a spokeswoman for his transition team.

In an interview this year with the Philadelphia Tribune, Williams said, "I can tell you right now, there are going to be some major changes in personnel. Some of the patronage people who are doing a bad job are going to be terminated. If their political patrons have a problem, well, they can come to me. But there are going to be some changes."

Replacing patronage employees is typical when a new elected official takes office.

Deeley, a longtime administrator in the office, took over as acting sheriff a year ago when Green resigned after 23 years.

This month, federal prosecutors filed fraud and tax-evasion charges against an internal auditor, accusing him of writing more than $400,000 in fraudulent checks and arranging massive discounts for an unidentified person who bought various properties at sheriff's sales.

Reports from City Controller Alan Butkovitz have documented a lack of internal controls under Green that left the office susceptible to fraud. The federal investigation is continuing.

 


Contact staff writer Nathan Gorenstein at 215-854-2797 or ngorenstein@phillynews.com.