Updated: Tuesday, February 27, 2018, 6:28 PM
Leon G. Wigrizer, 90, a lawyer who used his position as the U.S. Treasury Department’s first inspector general to root out corruption during the Carter administration and later placed a similar spotlight on city government under Philadelphia Mayor W. Wilson Goode, died Saturday, Feb. 24, of congestive heart failure at his home in the Hopkinson House in Center City.
“We are saddened to hear of the passing of Leon. His endless dedication to integrity and honesty has helped eliminate fraud and corruption in our city, and he will be remembered as a wonderful public servant and an inspiration to all,” said the city’s inspector general, Amy L. Kurland.
Mr. Wigrizer maintained a solo practice in Lawrence, Mass., until 1953, when he accepted a position as staff lawyer with the IRS in Philadelphia. Over the following three decades, Mr. Wigrizer quickly moved up the ranks, culminating in his appointment as deputy chief counsel for the IRS in Washington.
He served as regional counsel for the tax agency’s Mid-Atlantic Division and then director of the agency’s Criminal Tax Division along the way, and was involved in many high-profile cases.
In 1978, he became the Treasury Department’s first inspector general in the Carter administration. He established the office, formulated policies and procedures, and significantly tightened the department’s integrity programs. He worked on highly sensitive matters and testified before congressional subcommittees. He also took part in an investigation of family members of high-ranking elected officials. He retired at the end of the Carter administration in 1981.
In 1985, after four years practicing law with Fine & Ambrogne in Boston, Mr. Wigrizer was appointed as the Philadelphia’s first inspector general. In that role, he scrutinized city government for instances of fraud, waste, abuse of city rules and practices, and corruption. Between 1985 and 1991, Mr. Wigrizer was responsible for the arrest of 132 city employees, the Inquirer reported.
On May 9, 1991, Mayor Goode tapped Mr. Wigrizer, who had headed a federal investigation of corruption in the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections, to lead L&I.
In making the appointment, Goode said Mr. Wigrizer, with his deep experience, was the best choice to continue the administration’s attack on what the mayor said was entrenched corruption and mismanagement within L&I.
He used his time at L&I to prosecute corrupt inspectors. Later in 1991, he was appointed as SEPTA’s first inspector general. He remained at the transit agency until retiring in the late 1990s.
“Mr. Wigrizer established an effective organizational structure within the inspector general’s department that continues to operate with integrity and independence,” SEPTA spokesman John Golden said in a statement.
Mr. Wigrizer was born in Lawrence to Morris and Jennie Wigrizer, both of whom narrowly escaped the pogroms in what is now Ukraine. His father ran a butcher shop during the Great Depression.
Mr. Wigrizer graduated from Chauncy Hall School in Waltham, Mass., and earned a bachelor’s degree in business from Northeastern University. In 1950, he graduated from Boston University School of Law.
In 1951, he married Devora Anne “Dee” Gordon, whom he met while she was a student at Wellesley College. The couple lived in various places before moving to Philadelphia. They had two children. His wife died in 2015.
In retirement, Mr. Wigrizer spoke often on government ethics. “While he wanted to do away with corrupt officials, he was always concerned about the taint or smear that it would put on the vast majority of public servants who were honest,” said his son, Steven G. Wigrizer.
Mr. Wigrizer was an accomplished amateur photographer and a computer whiz. He was a contributor to various computer magazines. He built his own stereo system and did carpentry.
“He was a loving dad and a terrific example,” said his son, a lawyer. “He treated everybody the same, with respect and compassion. He started his life very poor. He thought it was a sin to waste money. We ate at home. The diet was tuna casserole, meat loaf, and Hamburger Helper. He had a profound impact on my life, both professionally and personally.”
In addition to his son, Mr. Wigrizer is survived by a daughter, Fay Adams; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Funeral services are at 1 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 28, at Joseph Levine & Son Memorial Chapel, 2811 W. Chester Pike, Broomall. Interment is in Har Jehuda Cemetery, Upper Darby.
Memorial contributions may be made to his synagogue, Congregation Kesher Israel, 412 Lombard St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19147.