FBI announces new anti-corruption iniative in Philadelphia

Several years after a corruption probe nearly took down Mayor John Street, federal law enforcement officials Monday announced a new initiative to find those who abuse public office.

The joint initiative, headed by the FBI, has doubled the number of agents working on corruption – 24 agents up from 12 a year ago – and created a new squad focusing specifically on law enforcement corruption. The initiative will feature a new confidential hotline and a campaign to encourage tips from the public.

Despite few major busts in recent years, FBI officials said corruption remains a concern locally that they hope to weed out.

“We feel that it’s an area where you have to have zero tolerance. We’ve got to aggressively always work it,” George Venizelos, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia division, said at a press conference. “But it’s also an area that’s very difficult to get people to come forward, difficult to uncover major corruption matters because they are extremely sensitive.”

City Inspector General Amy Kurland said she believes city employees are getting the message about corruption, citing an investigation six months ago that resulted in federal charges against three businessmen who allegedly tried to bribe a Commerce Department employee to get access to certain records.

“What that shows, in my view, is that things are changing in the city because city employees are coming forward, they are reporting corruption immediately,” she said. “We had several cases like that where our big investigation started with tips from city employees.”

A dozen agents are assigned to the law enforcement squad, with another 12 dedicated to general public corruption, Venizelos said. It is the same division that busted former city Treasurer Corey Kemp and former state Sen. Vincent Fumo.

Last year, former Philadelphia police inspector Daniel Castro pleaded guilty to extorting a former business partner. Several officers have also been charged with selling drugs since 2010.