As both a lifelong resident and now Sheriff of this wonderful city, I read with great interest several recent stories in both the Philadelphia Daily News and Philadelphia Inquirer that addressed issues of housing and the Office of the Sheriff of Philadelphia City and County itself.

The stories showed how complicated and complex each can be while illuminating the need for strict enforcement of laws already in existence, as well as more innovative ways to level the playing field for purchasing a home at a sheriff’s sale, and clarifying the procedures for getting money owed from the sale of a property.

Our other responsibilities and duties range from insuring the safety of the Criminal Justice Center, Family Court, and Traffic Court which represents about 64 individual courtrooms we protect.

We also transport more than 500 prisoners per day between the prisons and the courts, serve warrants, track down fugitives, post notices for evictions, and, of course, execute the sales of properties upon the order of the court.

Unfortunately, it is the latter we are most associated with because we are the last, and most public part of the process of someone losing his or her home.

Despite inheriting a plethora of challenges and hurdles that include a shortage of staff at almost every level, an inadequate computer and phone system, and a public image that’s less than stellar, we have made significant strides in a relatively short period of time that include:

  • Approximately $10 million transferred to the city and $23.4 million to the state as proceeds from the legitimate sale of properties. 
  • Approximately $2 million returned in long overdue refunds to individual homeowners and defendants. 
  • Signing historic MOU agreements with both the City of Philadelphia and the First Judicial District to define clear relationships and mutual responsibilities that establish transparency between the Sheriff, the City and the Courts.    
  • Working to install a new computer system to replace an outmoded technology that restricts the ability of the office to be responsive and timely in addressing the needs of citizens as well as city and court officials.

Our office has also:

  • Conducted 20 seminars teaching citizens “How to Buy Property at a Sheriff Sale” that’s been attended by 2500 mostly moderate income people and first time homebuyers and/or community groups looking to invest in their own communities.
  • Conducted six mortgage foreclosure prevention workshops in conjunction with community organizations
  • Continue to work with Women Against Abuse in protecting those women coming for court appearances and educating them on reaching out to a sheriff’s deputy if they feel threatened or unsafe in a courtroom.

After my election in 2012, I had to address and assist in two major investigations of the previous administration; a federal criminal investigation and a class action suit.

Two other major operations and financial issues also confronted me:  millions of dollars in unclaimed funds owed to the state, city and individual homeowners and an outdated computer system that manages millions of dollars in mortgage foreclosure and tax sale proceeds.   As outlined above, the office has now returned millions of dollars to the City of Philadelphia and its citizens as a first step toward more effective and transparent and timely operations.

So, when I read a column in the Philadelphia Daily News that says our office has a vendetta against one individual lawyer and that is why we have yet to return money on a property to his client (who has yet to produce the proper identification needed to do so), I just shake my head from side to side, then move on to the next challenge.

My immediate goals include becoming an even bigger part of the solution to ridding the city of abandoned homes and vacant lots, and continuing to streamline this organization to make it as efficient as possible.

These are challenges that are neither personal nor vengeful; two things that have no place in the Office of the Sheriff of Philadelphia City and County.

 

Ernie Ross, Jr., 18, was Sheriff For A Day on February 22nd as part of a city-wide "takeover" of government positions by PAL youth from across the city.  Ross spent the day with Sheriff Jewell Williams and Staff Inspector Paris Washington touring the different buildings and court rooms protected by the Deputy Sheriffs. Ross lives in the Allegheny West Community and is a member of the Hartranft PAL Center.   

 

The tragic killing of three people in the lobby of the New Castle County Court House in Wilmington, DE recently is something the Office of the Sheriff of Philadelphia City and County tries actively to prevent through constant training and vigilance of the areas we are charged with protecting.

My condolences and prayers to the family and friends of those killed, and to the innocent people in the vicinity of the incident who witnessed the horrible event.

Anyone going to a public facility—especially a courthouse—should feel secure and confident as they go about their business.  The security and safety of the general public, judges, witnesses, defendants and the accused at the Criminal Justice Center (CJC), Traffic Court and Family Court here in Philadelphia are all our responsibility and we are constantly training our Deputy Sheriff’s and reviewing our security at each place.

Unfortunately, though, when someone with a gun is determined to use it, such a scenario is a challenge for even the best security.

The shootings in Wilmington occurred in the lobby of the county court house prior to people going through the metal detector.  The lobby area of the CJC in Philadelphia is constantly monitored by uniformed personnel who are trained to respond in an “active shooter” scenario, and we are always on high alert throughout the day as hundreds of people come in and out of the building.

We’ve beefed up our security by adding two officers on bikes to patrol the perimeter of the CJC, and though we are down in personnel overall, we will continue to keep a uniformed presence in the outer perimeter of the building.

Still, anyone seeing something suspicious, or notice a person acting erratically in, or near any of the above-mentioned facilities should make one of our Deputy Sheriff’s or any police officer in the vicinity aware of the situation.

Again, the Office of the Sheriff of Philadelphia City and County does all that it can to insure the safety of those conducting business with the courts, but awareness on everyone’s part is welcome and appreciated as we go about our daily routine.

No sweet love and kisses here. Cops woke up 22 fugitives this morning with hand shackles and a ride to jail.

In their 16th annual, predawn Valentine's Day warrant sweep, more than 50 cops fanned out across Philadelphia and its surrounding counties in search of about 300 fugitives wanted on warrants for offenses big and small. They caught 22 of them in the five-hour sweep and hauled them in to Family Court for processing.

"I'm an Afghanistan veteran. Thanks, America!" a shackled fugitive barked at reporters on his way into courthouse. Another shouted expletives at news photographers.

But Philadelphia Sheriff Jewell Williams had little sympathy for the nabbed fugitives, who will get no roses or candy on this day celebrating sweethearts.

"They'll be eating cheese sandwiches today," Williams said. Fugitives "creep around like little rats so they don't get caught. But today, we have taken some bad guys off the street."

Williams noted that his office organizes the sweep every year on Valentine's Day, so "it would seem to me these people should know we're coming."

The fugitives caught were wanted for crimes including robbery, theft, driving under the influence, failure to pay child support and failure to appear in court, Williams said. Sheriff's deputies and other officers from Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties and Pennsylvania State Police troopers participated in the sweep. 

Williams urged fugitives to turn themselves in. Tipsters who know of any fugitives' whereabouts can call deputies at (215) 686-3578.


Reported by Dana DiFilippo for the Daily News on February 14, 2013.

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. - February 14, 2013 (WPVI) -- The Philadelphia Sheriff's Office, along with other city and regional police agencies, rounded up dozens of suspects in a Valentine's Day warrant sweep.

The Action Cam was there early Thursday morning as police went to various homes in the city in search of the fugitives.

The suspects were wanted for everything from attempted murder, domestic violence, failure to pay child support and other crimes.

In all, nearly 300 people were targeted in the sweep.

The sweep is a Valentine's Day tradition for the sheriff's office, which has been conducted for 16 years.


Reported by Action News on February 14, 2013.

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Twenty-two people are in custody today after an early morning sweep by the Philadelphia sheriff’s department for parents who haven’t paid child support.

But the sweep netted more than that.

Sheriff Jewell Williams says the sweep started about 2am and wrapped up five hours later. But instead of using just Philadelphia records, he says, the sweep included the surrounding counties using state police records.

“We found that there were other outstanding warrants — for burglary, robbery, theft, receiving stolen property, aggravated assault, simple assault,” he tells KYW Newsradio, “and we just included those other counties, and we found that we had people who were wanted for more than just not paying child support.”

Williams says some will have to serve time behind bars because they violated the child support agreement. And he says with apparent satisfaction that those who committed additional crimes will also be off the streets.


Reported by Kim Glovas of CBS Philly on February 14, 2012.

The tragic killing of three people in the lobby of the New Castle Co. Courthouse in Wilmington, Del. is something the Office of the Sheriff of Philadelphia City and County tries actively to prevent, said Sheriff Jewell Williams.

Sheriff Williams said, “First of all, I want to offer my condolences and prayers to the families of those killed as well as those wounded in this horrific incident.”

He then stated, “The security and safety of the general public, judges, witnesses, defendants and the accused at the Criminal Justice Center, Traffic Court and Family Court here in Philadelphia are all our responsibility and we are constantly training our Deputy Sheriffs and reviewing our security at each.”

“Unfortunately, when someone with a gun is determined to use it, such a scenario is a challenge for even the best security,” he added.

The shootings in Wilmington occurred in the lobby of the county court house prior to people going through the metal detector. The lobby of the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia is constantly monitored by uniformed personnel who are trained to respond in an “active shooter” scenario.

“We expect to have a bike patrol (two) outside the perimeter of the CJC in a few days, and though we are down in personnel overall, we will continue to keep a uniformed presence in the outer perimeter of the building,” added Sheriff Williams.


Published by the Philadelphia Public Record on February 14, 2013.

December 12, Philadelphia--Ana Sostre-Ramos, Director of Hispanic Community Affairs in the Office of the Philadelphia Sheriff has been named one of the 2012 Delaware Valley’s Most Influential Latinos by the Delaware Valley’s Most Influential Latinos Foundation.  

Deputy Sostre-Ramos joined the Office of the Sheriff, City and County of Philadelphia, in 1989 as a Special Deputy originally assigned security detail in the Domestic Court Unit of City of Philadelphia.   Later she served in Internal Affairs and the Real Estate Divisions in the Sheriff’s Office.

“I am humbled and very proud,” said Sostre-Ramos, “to be recognized by the Foundation for the services the Sheriff’s Office provides to the community.”  

Born in Yabuco, Purerto she ran track and field during her high school days.  She received her undergraduate degree in social work from Universidad del Sagrado Corazion in P.R.   She attended Temple University and was awarded a Deputy Sheriff certificate from Dickinson Law School.

She is a member of the Labor Council for Latin-American Advancement, serves on the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade Committee in Philadelphia and is a Red Cross Volunteer.

For the past seven years the Delaware Valley’s Most Influential Latinos Foundation has made its task to recognize individuals who have made great contributions to the Delaware Valley’s Latino community and the community at large. This year the awards dinner was held at the Hyatt Regency at Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia.

The first of several internal changes within the Philadelphia Sheriff’s office took place recently when former Acting Sheriff Barbara Deeley, in consultation with newly sworn-in Sheriff Jewell Williams, fired several non-civil service employees who were holding patronage jobs.

Although the exact number of terminations hasn’t been made public yet, at least 17 people handling foreclosure sales were released. Williams, who is taking over after the retirement of former Sheriff John Green, steps into a city department that has come under increasingly intense scrutiny. Green resigned after 22 years in office amid allegations that he violated city ethics rules. According to an in-depth investigation by the City Controller’s office, Green allegedly allowed two companies owned by friends to squirrel away at least $6.2 million dollars in fees over a six-year period.

“The former Acting Sheriff Barbara Deeley let these people go, but I backed her decisions. Traditionally, this is what happens when a new administration takes over — out with the old and in with the new,” Williams said. Williams has promised a high degree of public transparency in the department and in an earlier interview also promised to axe those employees who had been holding patronage jobs.

“I can tell you right now, there are going to be some major changes in personnel,” Williams said. “Some of the patronage people who are doing a bad job are going to be terminated. If their political patrons have a problem, well, they can come to me. But there are going to be some changes.”

Williams said that new policies will be instituted, including granting the media access to the sheriff sale process.

“We want to open up the entire process to the media,” Williams said. “I’ve been to the Criminal Justice Center and visited the different courtrooms, letting the deputies know there are going to be some changes that will make things easier for them. We’re also in the process of acquiring a new computer system. My goal is to restore public confidence and trust in this department. The different agencies that were in here, that wasn’t under my administration and what’s in the past is the past. But we’ve got some cleaning up to do; we’re looking at some monies in different accounts. Unfortunately, some partnerships have had to be dissolved — but that’s what has to happen when there’s a new administration.”

At the end of 2011, federal investigators filed criminal charges against a former employee of the Sheriff’s office, accusing him and three other people of writing more than $400,000 in fraudulent checks on the department’s accounts.

According to United States Attorney Zane David Memeger, Richard Bell, Robert Rogers, and Jackiem Wright and Reginald Berry were each charged with one count of wire fraud. Bell, who is a former employee of the Sheriff’s Department, was also charged with willfully filing a false federal income tax return.

“Essentially, someone at some point would cash or deposit these checks and the goal was to take the money out and whoever was involved, they would divide the proceeds,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Grieb in a published report.

According to the indictments, Bell was employed in the Accounting Department of the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office. Allegedly, between 2007 and 2010, Bell wrote a series of fraudulent checks that were drawn on bank accounts of the Sheriff’s Office to unauthorized individuals and companies. 

In the indictment against him, Bell allegedly then forwarded over $400,000 of those checks to Rogers. Rogers is accused of cashing those checks that were made payable to himself.

He allegedly forwarded the other checks to other individuals to either cash or deposit. In once instance, Rogers forwarded over $147,000 in checks made payable to one company to Wright and Berry. Wright and Berry then deposited the checks into the company bank account, and withdrew or attempted to withdraw the proceeds. Investigators say that the co-defendants allegedly shared the cash.

If convicted, Bell faces a sentence of 33 to 41 months in prison. Rogers faces a sentence of 27 to 33 months in prison and Wright and Berry each face a sentence of 15 to 21 months in prison.

Jewell Williams is no stranger to the Sheriff’s Office. He served as Chief of Criminal Operations in the Sheriff’s Office from 1994 to 2000. He’s pledged to bring much greater transparency to the department than was evidenced in the past.

“There really aren’t too many problems with the Criminal Operations aspect, but on the real estate side there are some issues,” he said.

In 2010, City Controller Alan Butkovitz raised questions over a failure by the Sheriff’s Office to cooperate with his auditors over requested financial documents. Butkovitz launched a full-scale forensic audit of 11 custodial accounts under the Sheriff's purview estimated at $53 million dollars. 

Williams said his election as sheriff is about shaking up the status quo and bringing much needed reform to the department. Some of the established community programs are going to continue, he said.

“We’re bringing in a new financial person, Ben Hayllar, who was the former finance director for the city under the Rendell Administration. I intend to continue with the Office’s Mortgage Foreclosure Prevention programs and the related town hall meetings,” he said. “We should continue to work with home owners to keep their properties. I think that’s one of the ways to build stability in communities. I also intend to hold the banks accountable for what they aren’t doing in our communities. They spend millions on promotions; we need to start reinvesting that money into the communities where the depositors come from.”


Written by Larry Miller for the Philadelphia Tribune on January 5, 2012.

Philadelphia Sheriff Jewell Williams showed up at his first foreclosure sale Tuesday and unveiled an executive order to prohibit sheriff's employees or contractors, or their family members, from bidding on foreclosed properties.

"Right now my job is to clean this sheriff's office up, make sure we pass the smell test on everything that we do," Williams told reporters. "I don't think having employees bid on properties at this time is a good thing."

Too many employees in the Sheriff's Office have access to inside information that could be helpful at auctions, he said.

"Our mission is to make sure that the office is transparent, make sure that we're accountable to the public and to the folks who put their money in the Sheriff's Office to bid for properties," Williams said.

Asked for a copy of the executive order, Williams' spokeswoman, Harriet Lessy, provided the following text: "No employee . . . including deputies, administrative staff and/or contractors to the office, are permitted to bid on a property listed for sale today or at any time in the future. That includes, too, members of the immediate family of anyone employed or anyone that resides in the same household as anyone employed by the Office of the Sheriff."

On paper, the new restrictions are significantly stronger than those imposed by Sheriff John Green, who ran the office from 1988 until the end of 2010.

But they do not address the main conflict-of-interest questions that have plagued the sheriff's real estate operations: personal real estate transactions between the sheriff's real estate personnel and the mortgage companies and speculators who frequently buy properties at the sheriff's auctions.

In January 2006, shortly after a report in the Philadelphia Daily News questioned the personal real estate dealings of Darrell Stewart, who ran the sheriff's auctions, Green adopted a new policy prohibiting his real estate personnel from bidding on properties.

The prohibition extended to employees who processed legal documents or other paperwork related to sheriff's sales.

But Green allowed the rest of his employees to participate in the sheriff's auctions and decided it was OK for even his real estate personnel to buy properties from mortgage companies and speculators who pick up real estate at sheriff's sales.

Green retired at the end of 2010 and was replaced by his longtime chief of staff, Barbara Deeley. At the end of her first week in office, she transferred Stewart to a job working at the city prisons. He has since resigned.


Written by Bob Warner for the Philadelphia Inquirer on January 11, 2012.