ABOVE PHOTO: Alan Butkovitz
Reach Communications Specialists , Inc., a former long-time contractor of the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office, recently filed a 27-count lawsuit seeking millions of dollars in damages against City Controller Alan Butkovitz, the Sheriff of Philadelphia, former Acting Sheriff Barbara Deeley, the City Of Philadelphia, and Lexington Technology Auditing, Inc.
This suit was filed weeks before the Nutter administration filed its $115 million lawsuit against Reach Communications and former Sheriff John Green.
The Reach suit raises political and racial motives, as well as charges of conflicts of interest, as the reason for the sudden termination of Reach’s long-term contractual and business relationships with the Sheriff’s Office in January 2011, and for the failure of the Sheriff’s Office to pay Reach monies owed for services previously performed.
The termination occurred following the release of a 2010 audit of the Sheriff’s Office by City Controller Alan Butkovitz, the retirement of former Sheriff Green, and the appointment of Barbara Deeley as acting Sheriff.
The suit contends that Butkovitz deliberately delayed the release of his disputed audit findings to deny outgoing Sheriff John Green sufficient time to defend his administration. It was well documented that Sheriff Green was slated to leave as part of the City’s ‘Drop Program’ and that Deeley, whose daughter Lisa served as a long-time aide to Butkovitz, was slated to become Acting Sheriff.
Green, who briefly delayed his retirement date to organize a team to defend his administration, later retired for personal reasons after receiving assurances from Deeley that she would follow through with his plan to defend his administration.
Four days after taking office, however, Deeley and former City Controller Joseph Vignola fired Reach a minority owned firm, together with virtually every minority member of the team Green had assembled.
“In my opinion, the call for a forensic audit of the Sheriff’s Office was in reality a combination of political grandstanding by the Controller and an integral part of a calculated plot to gain control of contracts performed by a minority vendor without due process,” explained James Davis, owner of Reach Communications.
Butkovitz, in his delayed audit report, questioned the accounting for $53 million in the Sheriff’s Office, but, after spending millions of taxpayers dollars on a forensic investigation, ultimately was unable to identify any legal wrong doing. A nationally recognized forensic accounting firm hired by Deeley to work with the Controller during the forensic audit also reported that it had identified virtually all of the funds questioned by the Controller. As a result, a subsequent investigative report (not audit) commissioned by Butkovitz instead focused on alleged contract violations and overcharges by Reach Communications – to the exclusion of related contracts and activities of non-minority vendors and employees of the office.
Reach also contends that the company was singled out because of its well-known efforts to support the continued independence of the Sheriff’s Office, and to protect the rights of homeowners through the “Save Our Home” Initiative that it helped to establish under the leadership of Sheriff Green.
The suit specifically alleges conflicts in the inter relationship of those involved in the forensic audit process. It alleges that Joseph Vignola, now the Chief Deputy Sheriff for Finance and Accountability, served and continues to serve as Senior Vice President of The Coleman Group, a local investment banking company. Lexington, a forensic data acquisition company given a no bid contract by Butkovitz, is owned by Dean Picciotti, who also served as Senior Vice President of the Coleman Group, until early 2010, just months before the controller called for a forensic audit.
Dean Picciotti incorporated Lexington in Delaware barely a month before the Controller awarded the company its first $30,000 no-bid contract. Butkovitz was quoted in a Philadelphia Inquirer article as stating that the company was recommended to him by former City Controller Jonathan Saidel, a friend of Vignola, who heads the advisory board for BlueStone Real Estate Capital, a Philadelphia-based real estate investment bank.
“From the very beginning Butkovitz conspired with other political figures to gain control of the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office Real Estate Division for their own benefit,” Davis said. “Talk about red flags, wrongdoing, conflicts of interest and unsavory relationships. If anybody needs to be investigated it is those guys.”
Among the 27 counts are claims for breach of contract, deprivation of property without due process of law, racial discrimination on the grounds of deprivation of equal rights to make and enforce contracts, violation of Reach’s First Amendment rights, unjust enrichment and civil conspiracy to take Reach’s contracts.