The Republican running for Philadelphia sheriff is asking the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office to investigate campaign donations and overtime pay in Sheriff Jewell Williams' office.
In a news release, Christopher Sawyer said he wrote Monday to the federal agencies asking them to scrutinize the pattern of donations and overtime pay described in Sunday's Inquirer.
The newspaper reported that nearly all the top recent earners of overtime in Williams' office had donated to his campaign fund. Williams said the donations, typically $100 or $125 a year, reflected employees' satisfaction with his work. "People support you when they feel good," he said.
Sawyer, an industrial systems engineer whose blog, Philadelinquency, is devoted to blight and vacant-land issues, said Williams "genuinely believes that you are stupid enough to believe him when he flatly denies that there is quid pro quo."
There was no immediate sign of federal interest in the matter. The FBI can neither confirm nor deny having received Sawyer's request, spokeswoman Carrie Adamowski said. Michele Mucellin, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, said her office, too, could not comment.
Williams, a Democrat heavily favored to win a second four-year term on Nov. 3, did not return requests Monday for comment. But in an interview on WURD-AM (900), he reiterated that his office's handing of overtime had nothing to do with campaign donations.
"If I feel good about you, and I work for you, and I support your program, then I'm going to support you financially, and I'm going to help you. That's what most people do in this town," he said.
He described his office's policy this way: "Employees can give you contributions, they cannot campaign in the office. You cannot mace people [link a government worker's pay or benefits to a campaign donation], which means you can't force people to buy tickets to your [campaign] event."
Williams, who is African American, also suggested "the color of my skin" was why The Inquirer had targeted his office for scrutiny.
"You get singled out because of the color of your skin," he said. "That's no stranger to anyone who is political, especially if you are African American."
Williams also said, as The Inquirer's article did, that no employees had complained to their union about overtime, "because everybody is being treated fair."
In an interview last week, Williams raised ethicists' eyebrows by saying that while he bars fund-raising in the office, campaign fliers mailed to employees' homes ask them to donate. "It seems outrageous that an officeholder is soliciting campaign contributions from the people he supervises," said David Thornburgh, executive director of the watchdog group Committee of Seventy.
Sawyer, the GOP nominee, said he wants federal agencies to look into the matter because their investigations have more teeth than those of their City Hall counterparts. If he went to the city Board of Ethics, he said, "it would be a slap on the wrist, a fine, and, 'Oh, don't do it again.' "
Though the Ethics Board can issue fines for violations of the City Charter, "we're not the FBI," Shane Creamer, the board's executive director, said. "We enforce public integrity laws."
Creamer would not say whether the board would investigate. He would say only that it has the authority to enforce a section of the charter that delineates what political activities are prohibited for elected officials, including soliciting political contributions from employees.
"If there's a potential violation that is subject to a potential investigation and therefore subject to confidentiality," the board cannot comment, Creamer said.
Amy Kurland, the city's inspector general, said her office only has jurisdiction over the administrative branch of city government, not independently elected row offices such as the sheriff, the controller, or the district attorney.
But Kurland, a former federal prosecutor, said Sawyer was not out of line in asking the federal government to investigate. "If I was at the U.S. Attorney's Office, I would want to take a look at that," she said. "Any time there's allegation of quid pro quo, there's concern."
In The Inquirer's Sunday story, Williams' chief finance officer, Benjamin L. Hayllar, said, "There's no quid pro quo here." Williams said employees are called in for overtime work based on who is willing to put in the extra hours.
"You have people who want to work overtime and people who don't," Williams said.
In the fiscal year that ended June 30, records show, 21 deputies with salaries from $58,000 to $76,000 earned enough overtime to boost their pay well into six figures.
The newspaper found that all but one of 20 top earners of overtime on Williams' 324-person payroll had given to his campaign within the past year. The 20th donated in 2012.
The department, which handles prisoner transportation, courtroom security, and sheriff's sales, spent $4.7 million in the last fiscal year on overtime, $2.5 million over budget. Williams said he could reduce overtime if he had 35 more deputies; Mayor Nutter's spokesman, Mark McDonald, said the department has more employees now than it has had in a long time and needs to "achieve efficiencies."