Updated: Thursday, March 8, 2018, 4:16 PM
A former deputy commissioner of the Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections, who resigned seven years ago under the cloud of an FBI probe, is alleging in a lawsuit against the city that he was persecuted — and eventually prosecuted — by powerful political enemies he made in the course of doing his job.
Dominic Verdi, who resigned in 2011, maintains that higher-ups in the department manufactured the scandal that drove him from his post as retribution for his decision to shut down a politically connected and unlicensed social club in Old City in early 2009.
His lawsuit, filed Feb. 21 in Common Pleas Court in Philadelphia, seeks more than $150,000 in damages for wrongful termination and malicious prosecution and comes little more than a year after a federal jury acquitted Verdi in a bribery and extortion case. Prosecutors had accused him of shaking down bar and club owners to buy beer from a distributorship in which he owned a secret stake.
“Dominic put in almost four decades with the city and lost nearly everything as a result of this,” his lawyer Benjamin J. Simmons said Thursday. “We’re just trying to make it right for him.”
In court papers, Verdi directs his ire at his boss, Frances Burns, who had been appointed by then-Mayor Michael Nutter to lead L&I in the years before Verdi’s departure. The two clashed from the start, he says, and Burns quickly transferred him to the Public Nuisance Task Force, a joint team of police officers and L&I inspectors that used city code violations to shut down problem bars, drug houses, and brothels.
In that role in 2009, Verdi shut down Girlfriends, a club near Third and Chestnut Streets, for failing to obtain an occupancy license. But, he alleges, Burns pressured him to reopen the nightspot to appease several of its patrons who “had close personal relationships with members of the Philadelphia city government.”
Verdi does not identify those patrons in his suit but says his refusal to buckle under their pressure prompted Burns to demote him two years later.
Reached Thursday, Burns declined to comment on Verdi’s claims. City lawyers said they still were reviewing the lawsuit.
Verdi also alleges that Burns took further retaliatory measures, including reporting to the FBI his secret ownership stake in Chappy’s Beer, Butts & Bets, the South Philadelphia beer distributorship at the heart of the indictment that eventually was filed against him.
However, news reports from the period show that the federal investigation was well underway by 2011 when Burns demoted Verdi and that the decision came shortly after he had been publicly named as a potential target of the probe.
At his 2016 trial, several bar owners testified that Verdi often used his clout at L&I to push local bar and club owners to buy their beer at Chappy’s. He cut breaks for loyal customers, they said, warning some of impending task-force raids and clearing away red tape for others facing shutdowns for failed inspections.
Verdi, testifying in his own defense, admitted that he hid his ownership stake in the beer business but insisted that he had never extorted anyone to boost his sales.
A hearing on his suit against Burns and the city has not yet been scheduled.