It’s April Fool’s Day, but we have a Groundhog Day story: A federal grand jury has charged a former top official of Philadelphia’s Department of Licenses and Inspections with conspiracy, extortion and honest services fraud.
Dominic Verdi was a 36-year city employee when he left in 2011 as a deputy commissioner of L&I. He headed a task force that worked with police to crack down on nuisance bars, but prosecutors say he had a special regard for clubs that bought beer from a South Philly supplier he had a secret ownership in, called Chappy’s Beer, Butts and Bets (I’m not making this up).
“In exchange for buying the beer from Chappy’s, the indictment charges that he provided protection and favorable treatment to these bars and night clubs,” said city Inspector General Amy Kurland, who assisted the feds in the investigation.
The indictment says Verdi tipped off his favored clubs to surprise inspections, helped them receive licenses they might not have qualified for, and told his people not to issue cease and desist orders they otherwise would have.
The story has a familiar ring not just because we see indictments of L&I people every few years, but because I remember when Kurland herself was a federal prosecutor 15 years ago, and she took down a ranking L&I official.
Frank Antico was a dapper-looking L&I chief known for his grasp of city codes and a fondness for night life. He went to prison for accepting everything from food and drink to sex from adult club owners he was supposed to be regulating.
I knew Verdi in those days, a smart and well-spoken guy who seemed dedicated to the job of helping neighborhoods close down nuisance bars. He’ll get his chance to prove he really was, but he’ll have to do it in court. His attorney Frank DeSimone told me Verdi denies the charges and will plead not guilty.
When I spoke to Kurland, I asked her if it was discouraging to see another ranking L&I official in handcuffs.
“It is discouraging, but I should point out that he’s a former deputy commissioner,” Kurland said. “There haven’t been problems like this at L&I for quite a while that I’m aware of.”
The crimes alleged in the indictment occurred from 2006 to 2010, which isn’t so terribly long ago. But Kurland said there’s something else to take heart in. When she prosecuted Antico in the late 90’s, it was the feds alone fighting corruption.
“Then, the U.S. Attorney’s office and the FBI took on the responsibility of trying to clean up the city,” Kurland said. “In this case, the city is helping to police itself.”
You can read Verdi’s indictment here.