In Philadelphia, public corruption is a stubborn fact. As residents of the city of brotherly love know all too well this week, public officials, whether they’re under pressure from personal obligations, like in the case of Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown paying her mortgage indirectly with campaign funds, whether they’re under pressure from strong Democratic Party machine bosses like in the case of the several traffic court judges under federal indictment and investigation, or whether they’re under pressure from interest groups and institutionalized community heads more focused on self-enrichment and self-promotion, Philadelphia politicians and bureaucrats alike are under intense pressure at their jobs to work to the best of their ability and attempt to maintain at least the appearance of ethics.
The Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office, charged with posting all Sheriff’s Sale notifications on a regular basis so that we, the public, are able to see what is for auction on the public market, states on its website that “properties which are certified to be sold at Sheriff’s Sale are advertised in the Legal Intelligencer and on a rotating basis in the Philadelphia Daily News and the Philadelphia Tribune for three successive weeks each month preceding the sale.” After several calls to both the Sheriff’s Office and several bureaucratic agencies with a hand in the sheriff’s sale process, I was unable to determine who, exactly, was directly responsible for submitting the literal list of public sales. Instead, I was repeatedly bounced from office to office throughout the labyrinth that is the Philadelphia 311 system. And, I was repeatedly sent to a voicemail box that did not take messages or, in another case, someone simply hung up on me.
At the sheriff’s office, an unnamed male office worker insisted that an advertising agency, which he refused to name, was responsible for the physical submission of the ads. Another worker, a female, insisted that it was the communications staff of Sheriff Jewell Williams. And, another female worker bounced me over to the city’s revenue office. Throughout this entire process, I was unable to determine who, precisely, submitted the ads, what they paid, or how they determined which newspapers received the largesse that is the Philadelpha Sheriff’s Sale posting.
What is perhaps most interesting, however, is that the Philadelphia Gay News, while a regular source of sheriff’s sale listings, with page upon page of properties any eager investor or developer would salivate at, was not named on the Sheriff’s public website as one of the recipients of public funds. Instead, the Sheriff’s Office asserts that only the Legal Intelligencer, the Philadelphia Daily News, and the Philadelphia Tribune receive the sheiff’s sale postings.
Any LGBT citizen in Philadelphia or reader of the Philadelphia Gay News knows that the PGN regularly publishes a veritable tome of public foreclosure and sheriff’s sale listings. What seems less obvious, however, is who actually submits these ads, what the PGN charges for these ads, and how this process is actually audited or supervised. Even more interesting, however, is the fact that the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office’s website was created by Soapbox Solutions, LLC.
In previous postings on this site, PGN publisher Mark Segal has been identified as controlling the Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld Fund which relies soley on former grants from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Department of Community and Economic Development. In addition, in 2011, the Hirschfeld Fund paid Segal ally and well-known Democratic consultant Micah Mahjoubian $30,000 out of the Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld Fund in order to use Mahjoubian’s numerous political connections throughout Philadelphia in order to make Segal’s dream of an LGBT senior housing project come to fruition on top of the Mark Segal Ballroom at the William Way LGBT Community Center. While the site originally chosen at 1315 Spruce Street was scrapped in favor of greener pastures, the housing project, relying on vital public funds for its construction, has moved forward.
Soapbox Solutions, LLC, is owned by Micah Mahjoubian. In 2011, the Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld Fund paid Mahjoubian $30,000 in his capacity as the Fund’s “Executive Director” for approximately 15 hours a week of work throughout the year. And, 15 months ago, Mark Segal, in his capacity as publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News, strongly endorsed Jewell Williams for sheriff, saying that “Jewell Williams has a stellar LGBT voting record in the State House. He deserves our support [for Sheriff.]” And, today, Sheriff Jewell Williams’ website is managed by Soapbox Solutions, LLC. Conveniently, while Sheriff Williams publicly states that only the Philadelphia Tribune, the Legal Intelligencer, and the Philadelphia Daily News receive sheriff’s sales notices, the fact of the matter is that the PGN regularly publishes these announcements as well.
In a call placed to the PGN’s advertising sales department to determine who, precisely, audits the PGN’s circulation to determine exactly how many people read the PGN and, thereby, how valuable advertising space was, I was informed that the PGN self-audits their circulation. So, rather than pay a third party auditor as is standard practice to ensure that a newspaper or magazine is not obfuscating the truth in regards to circulation, the residents of Philadelphia, represented by Sheriff Jewell Williams, are to take Segal’s word in relation to his circulation.
So, in Philadelphia, the PGN endorses a political candidate, the political candidate, upon election, hires a PGN ally who was previously paid $30,000 in 2011 with public money as that public official’s website designer, and the PGN then, potentially but entirely unknowable because the PGN self-audits and does not bring in a third party auditing firm to analyze its circulation, receives money from the Sheriff’s Office in order to publish page upon page upon page of sheriff’s sale listings. And, of course, residents of Philadelphia are not privy to how much, exactly, they’re paying nor whether or not they’re getting a good deal or fleeced for all their worth.
With the news this week of Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, another Segal ally, using campaign funds to pay her mortgage and of traffic court judges under federal indictment, this news is just another indication that, no matter how hard the average Philadephian has it, bureaucrats and political allies of the city Democratic Party and PGN publisher Mark Segal himself are still living comfortably. In fact, yesterday, Mark Segal just published his first regular column in the city’s flagship media organization.
As we’ve seen in Vince Fumo, Rick Mariano, Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, and Philly’s traffic court, we’re just watching business as usual.
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