Former Philly officials, contractor’s employee charged with embezzling Parks & Rec, voucher funds

City Hall in Philadelphia

City Hall in Philadelphia (Danya Henninger/Billy Penn)

Two former Philadelphia officials, and one former employee of a city contractor, have been charged with fraud and embezzlement after joint investigations by the city’s Office of the Inspector General and the FBI.

Leo Dignam, 61, of Philadelphia, who once served as director of the Mummers Parade and as assistant city managing director, is accused of wire fraud and embezzling from a program that received federal funds.

His brother, Paul Dignam, 58, also of Philadelphia, is facing charges of mail fraud and similar embezzlement charges.

Barbara Conway, 61, of Drexel Hill, has been charged with alleged theft of funds from a federally funded program.

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The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which is prosecuting the cases, announced the charges in a statement Thursday.

“Anyone who misdirects funds away from our local community and into their own pockets will be held accountable to the fullest extent,” Philadelphia Inspector General Alexander DeSantis said. “The City of Philadelphia will not tolerate misappropriation.”

Leo Dignam is accused in connection with a scheme to defraud the city of an estimated $150,000 from 2012 through 2019 by misusing two bank accounts in his control meant to support activities of the Parks and Recreation Department and the nonprofit Junior Baseball Federation. The federation has partnered with the Philadelphia Phillies to raise funds through game ticket sales in the past.

According to the statement announcing the charges, Leo Dignam allegedly used funds for personal expenses on an American Express card he opened in connection with the bank account meant to support the Junior Baseball Federation. The credit card was used and shared with family members for purchases at retail stores, grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, online shopping and service providers, the statement said.

Similarly, Leo Dignam — whose career with the city spanned roughly four decades — allegedly misused the Program Advisory Fund account meant to benefit the Parks and Recreation Department and city residents, the statement said, using this account to pay personal expenses, such as a Verizon bill, by transferring money directly into his own personal bank account.

Paul Dignam, 58, is also alleged to have misused a Parks & Rec-affiliated account by writing more than 100 fraudulent checks for himself, defrauding the city of an estimated $119,000, the statement said. Previously the regional manager for the South Region of Philly Parks and Rec, Paul Dignam oversaw administrative tasks of local rec centers and playgrounds and supervised the activities of several Parks and Rec district managers.

Paul Dignam opened an account in 2011 that was supposed to be for the Recreation Advisory Council, which supported rec centers and play areas by helping them raise money to create programs and maintain infrastructure. To conceal the fraud, the statement said, Paul Dignam allegedly had the bank statements mailed directly to his home, and had another person act as signatory of the account. Dignam then allegedly forged that person’s signature on the checks, falsely noting in the check memo line that they were “reimbursements” for expenses incurred through Parks & Rec purchases.

From 2015 through 2019, the statement said, Barbara Conway is accused of stealing more than $39,0000 worth of emergency assistance food vouchers intended for people with HIV/AIDS who were receiving federally funded health services provided by grants from the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program. Conway was formerly the food voucher coordinator for Public Health Management Corporation, a local nonprofit provider that manages the city’s voucher program.

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“All three of these defendants allegedly made the same bad choice to steal funds from federally funded programs,” said U.S. Attorney William McSwain. “The callousness that the defendants displayed by stealing from these programs is stunning.”

If convicted, Leo Dignam faces a maximum of 50 years in prison, Paul Dignam a maximum of 30 years in prison, and Conway, a maximum of 10 years in prison.

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