Philadelphia School Official Accused of Giving $900,000 Contract to Associates

by | May 28, 2015 AT 1:45 PM

By Joseph A. Slobodzian and Kristen Graham

When the Philadelphia School District was trying to save money two years ago by closing schools, the manager in charge of small business development steered a $900,000 contract to businesses owned by her friends or her family, according to District Attorney Seth Williams.

Now a Philadelphia County grand jury has recommended that Priscilla Wright, 50, of the 6400 block of Norwood Street in East Germantown, be charged in connection with the contract awarded to Murphy's Transporting Services and its subcontractors.

She surrendered to authorities Wednesday and was awaiting to be formally charged on conflict-of-interest and perjury counts. The perjury count resulted from Wright's testimony to the grand jury. She denied taking any action involving the project, which was contradicted by other witnesses and e-mails she sent using her school district account.

Wright's attorney, Brian J. McMonagle, declined to comment.

School District spokesman Fernando Gallard confirmed that Wright worked for the district for more than 13 years. She resigned in January as the $62,169-a-year manager of the small business office in the district's capital projects department.

Gallard said he could not comment further because of the ongoing investigation.

According to the District Attorney's Office, in March 2013 the School District began closing 23 schools and issued a request for bids from vendors to move school property from closed buildings to other sites. Wright allegedly used her job to ensure Murphy's Transporting and several subcontractors, all who were owned by either her friends or her relatives, won the bid.

Williams on Wednesday released a statement that said Wright was the ringleader who "steered a lucrative contract to her friends and family and stayed involved with the contract to make sure that everyone she wanted got paid as schools closed across the city."

When Wright learned of the contract to move school district property, she allegedly called husband-and-wife owners Sam and Serena Murphy from her desk in School District headquarters and urged them apply. She then allegedly created a team to enable her to steer contract money as she chose.

Friends Kia Steave and Angel Hackney were allegedly recruited as Wright's agents and other relatives created subcontracting firms to work for Murphy's Transporting and help Wright's extended family benefit.

Among those involved, the grand jury alleges, were Wright's son, John Nelson Brown, and his Tatoe Construction, and Wright's sister, Laverne Rodney, who created Boost Enterprises. Wright's daughter, Brittany Davis, and nephew Gregory Wright, also participated.

Williams' spokesman, Cameron Kline, said Priscilla Wright was the only one criminally charged in what he called a "continuing investigation."

(c)2015 The Philadelphia Inquirer