Return millions in excess funds to property owners

Philadelphia, April 19, 2017—Testifying at City Council budget hearings, Sheriff Jewell Williams described the millions of dollars in new revenues generated by the monthly Sheriff sales. The vigorous collection of delinquent real estate taxes through auction has resulted in an additional $60 million dollars per year in taxes and fees that is now forwarded to the City’s general fund.

“In my first year in office, Sheriff Sales collected $27 million in delinquent taxes and fees”, said Sheriff Williams. “From three sales a month in 2012, we now conduct six monthly sales, including a Land Bank Sale; and there is evidence that the backlog of delinquent cases is at last shrinking. While we still process more than 27,000 properties a year, the backlog of delinquencies and the amounts collected are getting smaller. “

Of the 27,000 properties processed each year, approximately 7,000 go to a final sale and processing properties is a vastly improved operation. When the Sheriff took office in 2012, it required up to 120 days after settlement for a property to be returned to productive use. Last year, the time between a property’s sale and the issuance of a new deed was reduced to 15 days.

The office has also dedicated resources to finding people who are owed excess funds from the sale of their property. After a property is sold, settled and all liabilities and debts have been paid and recorded, the owner of record at the time the court ordered the sale (“defendant”) may recover any excess balance remaining on the account through the Sheriff’s Defendant Asset Recovery Team also known as DART.

Historically, only a fraction of these excess funds were returned to the previous property owners. Sheriff Jewell Williams made it a priority when he took office in 2012 to search out those owed money by increasing the efforts of the DART unit. Under his leadership, the unit has been more aggressive in validating which defendants are eligible to receive payment and connecting with those individuals to put a check in their hands.

Last year, DART located 140 people and returned $2.2 million in excess funds to them. Since 2012, nearly $11 million has been returned to more than 400 people. If property has been sold at Sheriff Sale within the past 18 months, former owners can file a claim with the DART unit on the Sheriff’s website.

After 18 months, any funds that cannot be returned to the owner of record is forwarded (escheated) to the state as unclaimed funds. In six (6) years, $50 million has been escheated to the state. Owners can apply for this money through the Pennsylvania Treasury Department’s unclaimed funds process. Last year, the Sheriff’s office escheated $7,775,416 to the state in unclaimed funds.

The Sheriff’s office has also continued its robust efforts to educate the public on services it provides through workshops, seminars, and events all across the city.

Other Highlights of the Sheriff’s testimony to Council include:

• Training of new Deputies for the warrant service unit
• Security operations for the City’s Probation and Parole office
• Secure pouches to eliminate cell phone use in courtrooms
• Enhanced security for City Hall
• Gunlock giveaway-2800 free gunlocks have been made available to citizens on request

About the Sheriff’s Office
The Philadelphia Sheriff's Office is committed to serve and protect the lives, property and rights of all people within a framework of high ethical standards and professional conduct at all times. We are committed to excellence in public safety and professional services, and ensuring that those services are always satisfactory and of the highest quality possible.

You'll keep your phone, but in a locked bag

If you have business Monday at Philadelphia’s Criminal Justice Center, expect delays.

It’s the first day of a new court policy requiring most civilians entering the building to turn off their cellphones and put them into a magnetically sealed “Yondr” pouch that keeps phones locked within a designated no-phone zone.

You’ll be able to keep your cellphone with you, but you won’t be able to use it. When you’re ready to leave the courthouse at 13th and Filbert Streets, you’ll return to court personnel, who will unlock the pouch and return the phone.

“It’s a 21st century solution to a 21st century problem,” Jacqueline F. Allen, administrative judge for the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, said at a recent news conference unveiling the new system.

Not that there won’t be a learning curve before the public gets used to the new policy.

Court administrator Joseph H. Evers said added personnel will be in the courthouse lobby Monday to help guide the public through the phone-bagging process and security. He said the courts have acquired 4,500 Yondr pouches at a cost of $50,000.

The new system is court officials’ latest effort to deal with the problems caused by cellphones in a criminal courthouse. Rarely does a day go by without somebody’s cellphone going off in one of the building’s 11 floors of courtrooms.

Usually, the offender’s phone is confiscated by court personnel and returned at the end of the day. But sometimes an offender is incarcerated or fined for contempt of court. And then there is the continuing problem of intimidation: friends of people on trial taking surreptitious photos of witnesses to post on social media.

Years ago, people entering the courthouse were required to surrender their cellphones at security. The phones were placed in individual locked boxes until the owners left the building.

The system was scrapped because of the delays it caused and complaints that phones were damaged or returned to the wrong person.

“The new system keeps the phones in their hands,” Evers said. “It makes them their responsibility, not ours.”

Allen said she first read of the Yondr mobile phone locked box in an October article in the New York Times about how entertainers including Dave Chappelle have begun using them to prevent interruptions and recordings of their concerts.

Yondr has said the Philadelphia criminal courthouse is the first to use the phone pouches for all courthouse visitors.

Evers said the courthouse collected about 3,500 cellphones daily when it used its own locked box system.

Complaints about the new system are likely to come from lawyers who cannot phone clients who are late for a hearing and clients who can’t find their lawyers.

Some people will be exempted from the new requirement: current and former judges, current court employees, lawyers and law enforcement personnel with proper identification, people with disabilities who need an electronic device to communicate, credentialed news reporters with ID.

Jurors will not have to use the pouches but will surrender their phones to courtroom personnel if picked for a trial.

For everyone else, Evers had a suggestion that these days seems almost quaint: Use the pay phones on each floor of the Criminal Justice Center.


Written by Joseph A. Slobodzian for the Inquirer.

This Valentine’s Day give a real gift of love – a gun lock says Philadelphia Sheriff Jewell Williams.

Please don’t keep an unlocked gun where children can find it and accidently shoot it. Carelessness like that results in death caused by a child at least once every other day in the United States. Last year one four-year-old found a gun that slid from under the seat of the car his mother was driving. It was loaded and he shot and killed her.

So think about protecting your loved ones….and pick up a free gun lock at Sheriff Jewell Williams’ Office in the Land Title Building, 100 S. Broad Street – 5th Floor. No questions asked!

We are open Monday thru Friday from 8:30 am – 4:30 pm.

Got a Gun – Get a Lock

Philadelphia, PA--Harold and Barbara Shapiro were the recent recipients of a check personally handed to them by Philadelphia Sheriff Jewell Williams in recognition of the historic mark of returning over $10 million during his administration to individuals whose homes sold at a sheriff’s sale for more than the taxes owed.

“This ($10 million mark) reflects the hard work and dedication this office, and specifically the Defendant Asset Recovery Team (D.A.R.T), has put into ensuring that any excess funds generated from a sale is returned as quickly as possible,” said Sheriff Williams.

The Shapiro’s, lifelong residents of Philadelphia before moving recently to Croydon, Pennsylvania, said the money would be used to pay a few bills, then shared with family members.

“There are a couple of things we need to take care of,” said Barbara Shapiro, “then we will share the rest with family.” Also, she said, she will soon be losing her job because of downsizing and the money couldn’t have come at a better time.

“We take every opportunity to educate people on how to claim money they may be owed, and, to the best of our abilities, make sure they know they can file the proper paperwork for a claim by themselves,” said Sheriff Williams. “A middle person, who can legally charge as much as 15-percent of the amount recovered, is really not necessary. They can keep it all.”

For more information on how to apply for excess money you think may be owed from the sale of a property, you can reach the sheriff’s D.A.R.T. Unit at 215-686-3532.

SOUTH PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Members of the Philadelphia Sheriff's Office were dispatched Friday to a South Philadelphia Five Below store for an important job - to buy gifts for children who need a little help this holiday season.

"Disabled veterans' families were going to be doing this year. We're also going to be doing family shelters, we're going to be doing schools. It's just all the way around. We're trying to reach as many families, the less fortunate," said Sheriff's Office Inspector Michael Bastone.

The list of who they are helping has expanded since the office started this tradition several years ago. The sale of T-shirts have raised more than $5,000 this year for the gifts.

"We have shirts printed every year, sheriff's shirts, which have a nice toy drive on the back. We sell these shirts for $20, and then the proceeds is used for the toys," said Bastone.

After making their list and checking it twice, they carried the goods away until it's time to play Santa.

"For us it's really great. To do this it's awesome. I mean it really touches our hearts for many of the officers," said Bastone.

Santa has a sleigh, and the Sheriff's Office has their own transport van and an entire fleet. They will use those vehicles to transport the toys to the children starting Saturday.


Reported by Annie McCormick for 6ABC News.

The majority of unintentional shooting deaths involve children playing with a loaded, unlocked gun in the home.

November is Child Safety & Prevention Month.  Every day we adults are responsible for the safety of our children.

In August City Council President Darrell Clarke and I kicked off the Got a Gun – Get a Lock initiative to encourage every gun owner that has children living with them to make sure that guns are securely locked up.

I encourage you to check out the above video and if you have a gun at home please stop by my office at the Land Title Building at 100 S. Broad Street on the 5th Floor and pick up a free gun lock. No questions asked.

As adults we must lead by example.

Even before he begins his new role as Pennsylvania Attorney General, Josh Shapiro wanted to assess the climate of the state’s most pervasive social justice issues from people who work with them everyday.

For Philadelphia, the highlighted issue was community gun violence.

So, with the help of Council President Darrell Clarke, the pair gathered top ranking officials like Police Commissioner Richard Ross, Sheriff Jewell Williams and District Attorney Seth Williams, and put them, literally, at a round table discussion with community-based organizations who work to help eliminate gun violence and support the families affected by it everyday.

“I consider myself someone who the community and the drug dealers or shooters look up to from my past,” said Michael Daniels, an organizer with the Philadelphia Anti Violence Coalition and an anti-gun violence organization called EDGE.

Daniels detailed his activism, which includes traveling to the homes of victims and perpetrators of gun violence, and trying to intervene before a situation escalates.

The Tuesday round-table panel discussion took place at the Stephen Klein Wellness Center near on Cecil B. Moore Avenue between 21st and 22nd streets.

The meeting included many of Philadelphia’s top and well-known anti violence advocates including: Bilal Qayyum, founder of the Father’s Day Rally Committee; Derrick Ford TK roles; Anthony Murphy, executive director of Town Watch Integrated Services; Dorothy Johnson Speight, founder of Mothers In Charge; Movita Johnson-Harrell, founder of the Charles Foundation; and several others.

Shapiro said at the meeting the boots-on-the-ground anti-violence advocates were now members of his new, non-traditional transition team. He will begin his role as attorney general in January.

“I don’t want the perspective of the insiders,” Shapiro said. “I want the perspective of the people.”

And he got it.

One particular perspective that surprised Shapiro came from 24-year-old John Solomon, a former perpetrator of gun violence turned anti-violence worker.

“How old were you when you picked up a gun for the first time?” Shapiro asked Solomon, nephew of anti-gun violence community organizer Darryl Shuler.

“I want to say around 11,” Solomon replied.

Solomon said he got the gun from a friend, and didn’t feel guilty about carrying it on occasion because guns were so pervasive in his community.

“Seeing it growing up, it kind of normalizes carrying guns,” he said. “It becomes normal in our culture.”

Out for more than a year after serving a nearly five-year sentence for a violent act, Solomon said it was prison that enabled him to slow down and see the broad impacts of gun violence.

Organizers at the panel discussed reaching children like Solomon before their situations escalate.

Education is a tool, according to Shuler, a community member who works on the ground closely with victims and perpetrators of gun violence, but for kids who are already using guns, sometimes it’s not enough.

“We need people like myself and other people sitting around this table to be able to go in this community and change the mind set,” he said.

Shuler also spoke on improving police, community relations, and applauded D.A. Williams for his new police-involved shooting protocol.

Economic empowerment was a tool many of the organizers said they use to help steer community members away from gun violence.

Ruben Jones, executive director of Frontline Dads, said his organization helps participants with “transitional employment.”

Terry Starks of Philadelphia Ceasefire uses entrepreneurship to uplift at-risk populations. His family is an example, he said, with his children each running a basketball camp, a dance team and making their own juice, between them.

Starks, who said he was just elected a ward leader in the city, had a message of solidarity for the officials.

“You can’t think that you’re by yourselves right now, because you’ve got somebody here on the other side that’s just scraping over there to see who’s going to help us too,” he said.

While every organization represented stood behind their community and advocacy work, many pointed to lack of resources to continue the work.

Every Murder Is Real uses a “holistic and trauma-informed approach” to addressing the impacts of gun violence in Philadelphia, the organization’s founder Chantay Love said Tuesday. They lobby in Harrisburg and partner with local hospitals to train medical staff what trauma looks like in African Americans and how to treat it.

“We are the grassroots, and no we don’t get the funding,” Love said. “They like our data, they like what we do, but they don’t really want to partner.”

Not just money, Ceasefire PA Executive Director Shira Goodman said elected officials can help community gun advocates find data on where guns are coming from and how they’re being acquired.

“We need to know that data exists,” Goodman said. “It is hidden behind the walls, you have the power to work with police jurisdictions across the state. The state police can get it.”

Ultimately, said Harrell-Johnson, “We just want the homicides to stop.


Written by Layla A. Jones for the Philadelphia Tribune.

Attorney General-Elect Josh Shapiro hosted an event Tuesday to learn more about gun violence in the Philadelphia area.

Shapiro presided over a conference table at a health clinic in North Philadelphia. Seated closest to him were some of the city’s bold-faced names, including Police Commissioner Richard Ross, District Attorney Seth Williams and Council President Darrell Clarke. Elsewhere around the table were leaders of various organizations, such as Mothers In Charge, CeaseFirePA, and Father’s Day Rally Committee, who have been working on this issue for years.

“Where are these guns coming from? We need to know,” Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFirePA said. “That data exists. It is hidden behind some walls. We have the power to work with police jurisdictions across the state to get it.”

Shapiro could not guarantee more funding for these groups, but he said he would like the state attorney general’s office to work more closely with them and “get them rowing in the same direction.” He also wants to collect the missing data on how illegal guns used in crimes are trafficked in the state.

“I was stunned at the number of guns that are coming from Pennsylvania that were on that chart,” Shapiro said. “I think it’s important that we gather that data in Pennsylvania as well.”

Shapiro also said he wants to expand the Philadelphia gun violence task force and push for a statewide requirement to report lost and stolen guns.


Written by Jeff Dempsey for CeaseFirePA.