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Philadelphia Roiled by Corruption Trial

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Philadelphia's former treasurer has been found guilty of 27 counts of fraud, extortion and tax evasion. Corey Kemp is the highest-ranking official convicted in an investigation of corruption in Philadelphia. Last night the judge refused to end the trial because jurors had not yet agreed on all the charges against Kemp and other suspects. But the verdict became official this morning when the judge decided to send the jurors home. From member station WHYY in Philadelphia, Brad Linder has this report.

BRAD LINDER reporting:

Jurors returned 39 guilty verdicts against five defendants in the Philadelphia corruption trial. Most of those counts revolve around former city treasurer Corey Kemp. He was charged with accepting gifts and favors from those doing business with the city. Prosecutors say Ron White, a major fund-raiser for Mayor John Street, provided Kemp with gifts, meals, expensive trips and $10,000 in cash. In exchange, Kemp allowed White to control the City Treasurer's Office. Mayor Street has not been charged with any crime, but the large-scale federal investigation of Philadelphia government became public in 2003 when a listening device was found in his office.

Until the jury's dismissed, lawyers have been barred from speaking to the press. But speaking last summer, US Attorney Pat Meehan announced the indictment of Corey Kemp, Ron White and 10 others.

Mr. PAT MEEHAN (US Attorney): We are announcing a 56-count indictment that touches the highest levels of city government. It indicts 12 individuals, but it also indicts a culture that breeds corruption.

LINDER: Five of those originally charged have pled guilty. One defendant was found not guilty in a separate trial, and Ron White died of cancer last year. That left Corey Kemp, two banking executives and two business people, including Ron White's girlfriend, facing 52 charges of corruption, fraud, perjury and extortion. Prosecutors say Corey Kemp allowed White to make decisions about what firms would do business with the city. In exchange, White showered Kemp with gifts, including trips to the Super Bowl and the NBA All-Star Game. White also arranged for Kemp to get a $10,000 deck built on his house, but Kemp got worried about the appearance of corruption. During the trial, prosecutors played a conversation secretly recorded by the FBI. Kemp was talking to his wife and telling her to make sure she tells everyone that he was paying for the deck himself.

(Soundbite of audiotape)

Mr. COREY KEMP: Just remember when you talk to people about that deck, I'm paying for that deck.

Corey Kemp's Wife: Who the hell is talking to people about it?

Mr. KEMP: I'm just saying, your family, anybody.

Corey Kemp's Wife: Whatever, Corey.

Mr. KEMP: Tell them I'm paying 'cause, you know, this...

Corey Kemp's Wife: You're the one that's been telling everybody.

Mr. KEMP: I'm not telling nobody no more.

LINDER: Jurors found Kemp guilty on charges relating to the deck. All told, Kemp has been found guilty of 27 of the 45 counts he was charged with. Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell is a former mayor of Philadelphia. After the verdict was released yesterday, he said the jury's decision won't tarnish Mayor Street's reputation.

Governor ED RENDELL (Pennsylvania): I think people approach that fairly and look at it and say, you know, `We're going to wait to hear if there's any connection to anybody.' You know, if in fact the treasurer is guilty, and I assume that he is, you know, there's no evidence that he acted with the approval or consent of the mayor.

LINDER: The verdict came after 18 days of deliberations. On the 11th day, the judge removed a juror for alleged bias against the government. She apparently told other jurors that the government had lied. But it's not clear she meant that the government always lies or if prosecutors and FBI agents in this case had lied in court. Defense attorneys for Corey Kemp say she wasn't biased, but rather that she believed their case. An appeal is likely.

For NPR News, I'm Brad Linder in Philadelphia.

INSKEEP: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Brad Linder