A Twisting Tale of Political Corruption

Philadelphia-style.

Leslie Acosta is an elected member of Pennsylvania’s state House of Representatives. She is a Democrat and represents a section of Philadelphia.

Earlier this year Acosta “secretly” pleaded guilty to one federal count of conspiracy to commit money laundering in a scheme to embezzle money from a mental health clinic and will be a witness against her boss, who goes on trial later this year. According to published reports, between 2008 and 2012 Acosta had a no-show job: she received and cashed paychecks and then gave the money to her boss, the embezzler. At this time it does not appear Acosta got any of this money, but you have to wonder. The Curmudgeon says “secretly” because even though she entered a guilty plea in March this only became public knowledge this month. For reasons that haven’t been explained, details of her plea deal were sealed by a federal judge – although the federal prosecutor, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, told the judge that “The witnesses have expressed security concerns to us.”

“Security concerns.” ‘nuff said.

Despite pleading guilty to a federal crime in March, Acosta sought renomination to her office in April. The public was in the dark about the conviction, so she won.

And now she’s on the ballot in November. Even though the public is no longer in the dark, Acosta, after pleading guilty to a federal crime, has refused to withdraw from the ballot and is adamant that she is running for re-election.

And she’s going to win, too, because while Republicans bitch and moan about one-party rule in Philadelphia, they couldn’t even dig up a warm body to run against Acosta, so she’s running unopposed.

That’s too bad: the warm body might’ve won.

That’s a real capable group, that Republican Party, isn’t it?

But the Democrats are even worse: she’s their candidate, and in a part of the city where the machine candidate almost always wins, they bear responsibility for putting someone who is now a convicted felon in public office.

Philadelphia has a lot of experience with that: Acosta first won nomination to her seat running against an incumbent who had just been accused of – here it is again – a ghost employee scheme. In this case, he gave a no-show, no-work, full-pay job to his sister. (Acosta won, the guy she beat pleaded guilty.)

Since her guilty plea has become public knowledge, many people – the governor, the head of Philadelphia’s Democratic party, virtually all Republicans and many Democrats in the state legislature, the newspapers, and others – have called on Acosta to resign and withdraw from the November election.

And so far Acosta has said nuts to that.

Under Pennsylvania’s constitution, Acosta isn’t required to leave office until conviction, which is defined as including sentencing. Sentencing is scheduled for nine days after next year’s legislative session is scheduled to begin.

Nine days.

Yet she is running for re-election. In an act of incredible selfishness, knowing that her term will last only a few weeks, she is running for re-election.

But hey, it’s a paycheck, right?

The person Acosta is accused of helping embezzle the money, and whose prosecution she is now assisting with her testimony, is Renee Tartaglione, who ran the behavioral health facility. Tartaglione has quite a family tree. Her mother Marge served nine four-year terms as an elections commissioner in Philadelphia; that is an elected office. Never implicated in any legal scandal – and The Curmudgeon has personal experience of a situation in which she attempted to address what she feared might be a scandal in her own office – Marge nevertheless has been one of the hardest-fighting, nastiest, down and dirty and profane politicians most people have ever encountered. Before becoming an (alleged) embezzler, Renee served as her mother’s deputy – served, that is, until she resigned after admitting to the Philadelphia Board of Ethics that she committed nine violations of a provision in the city’s charter that prevents city employees from most types of participation in political campaigns. Renee’s husband, Carlos Matos, was a Philadelphia Democratic ward leader who was convicted of bribing councilmen in Atlantic City and was sent to prison for three years to contemplate his crime against society. Once released, Philadelphia’s Democratic Party, that bastion of integrity, welcomed him back with open arms, restoring him to his previous role as ward leader, until a federal judge banned him from holding that office while still on probation, maintaining that the temptation to return to his life of crime would be too great. Once the probation ended Matos was re-elected ward leader by his peers – a position he still holds today. In hindsight, it appears that Renee’s violations of the city charter came while she was unofficially serving in her husband’s capacity as de facto ward leader while he was in the hoosegow.

Those Philadelphia Democrats are big on integrity.

Oh, but back to that family tree: the under-achiever in the family, since there’s never been a whiff of scandal involving her, is Renee’s sister Christina. Tina, as she is known, has served as a state senator representing part of Philadelphia since 1995. For the last eight years The Curmudgeon lived in Philadelphia, Tina was his state senator.

Imagine his pride!

Holding onto at least one last shred of self-respect, Acosta has chosen not to travel to the state capital for the legislature’s remaining days in session. Oh, she’s still on the payroll, but she’s just not showing up for work. (Such as “work” is: the not-so-hard-working Pennsylvania state House has scheduled only 11 days in session between Labor Day and the end of the year. Nice work if you can get it at an annual salary of $84,000, an additional “per diem” payment of $157 for every day they are in the state capital, regardless of whether the House is in session, and of course the kind of benefits that make 95 percent of us drool with envy.)

Ironic, ain't it?

Ironic, ain’t it?

One last thing worth noting: one of the issues Acosta has attempted to champion is that of helping the recently incarcerated return to the community. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported recently that “She had announced plans next month to host a ‘Formerly Incarcerated & Convicted People Conference’ with several other state legislators…”

One of those “other state legislators” is Vanessa Lowery Brown, about whom The Curmudgeon has written in the past: Ms. Brown will soon go on trial for corruption in office.

So maybe it’s just a coincidence that Acosta and Brown are so interested in the challenges facing those recently released from jail.

Or maybe it was just a case of really, really good planning on their part.

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