Last year, it seemed as if the bugging of Mayor John Street’s office was the biggest story in Philadelphia. Lurid headlines filled the pages of the Philadelphia Daily News and The Philadelphia Inquirer, TV news hosts speculated and conversations around the city were dominated by the odder and odder turns of the investigation. And of course, it ended up being the make-or-break issue that got Street reelected, not the first time Philadelphia elections violated all laws of logic.
Then the investigation faded out of the public’s eye. Stories became buried deeper and deeper in the paper, and then never appeared at all. The question of just who in Mayor Street’s office was being investigated received plenty of speculation, but that was just it: speculation. Eventually, it just became another piece of background noise among Philadelphia politicians.
But lately the corruption probe has been returning with a vengeance. Now we know that the investigation is wide-reaching, that it involves not just the questionable activities of one individual, but that if the allegations are true, they might expand far beyond City Hall.
From what has been publicly revealed, the investigation is focusing on the family of Imam Shamsud-din Ali, the politically connected leader of one of Philadelphia’s largest mosques and a longtime recipient of funds to provide social services. There are allegations of mail fraud and of wire fraud, of the city offering funds for teaching jobs and classes that never existed. It looks as if Ali isn’t the only one, either; there were others throughout the city who might not have been providing services in exchange for the government funds they received.
It is important to remember that we don’t know for sure what the FBI is investigating. It is important to keep an open, impartial mind. But all the evidence points to millions in taxpayer money being given to individuals and organizations throughout the city who then kept the money for themselves. And if it is true, it is something we all should have something to be angry about.