Pennsylvania's Attorney General's Office has charged Penn Annenberg School for Communication lecturer Desiree Peterkin Bell with a half dozen counts of public corruption, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
According to court documents, Peterkin Bell misused public funds for two years while serving as the chairperson of the Mayor's Fund, a nonprofit organization. She was arraigned on Tuesday.
Peterkin Bell, a city representative under Mayor Michael Nutter until 2015, has long worked in the public sector as a political strategist. She became an instructor at Penn in January 2017, and is currently slated to teach an urban communication course next spring.
The Mayor's Fund has been heavily criticized in the past two years for suspected corruption. In March 2017, then City Controller Alan Butkovitz called on Peterkin Bell and Nutter to pay back "tens of thousands of dollars" spent through the Mayor's Fund, The Inquirer reported.
Butkovitz's office found that Peterkin Bell shopped at Macy's and J.Crew and paid for meals at restaurants in Center City with fund money. The office also revealed that she used fund money to travel to various cities and pay the $8,738 tab for 458 Uber rides she took in 2015. Butkovitz's audit found that the fund spent $134,000 on American Express credit cards over five months without providing receipts or supporting documentation.
Peterkin Bell responded to Butkovitz's claims at the time and called them false "accusations."
"This is getting tiring and very old. This narrative, these accusations are not true," Peterkin Bell said in a statement to The Inquirer in 2017. "We all know it's an election year — it's abundantly clear that it's not about the pursuit of facts, it's about managing perception in an election year."
Peterkin Bell is currently the president and CEO of DPBell & Associates, a public affairs firm she founded. If found guilty of all charges, Peterkin Bell could serve up to 35 years in prison, The Inquirer reported.