Rudyard Kipling was never knighted, the story goes, because of an intentional bout of vulgarity. A Kipling tale beginning, “’Shit!’ said the Queen . . .” so offended England’s prudish Queen Victoria that, according to (apocryphal) legend, she never deemed the prolific British writer worthy of knighthood or poet laureate.
As goes Queen Victoria, so follows Philadelphia City Controller Alan Butkovitz.
Employees in the controller’s office are walking on eggshells after two separate incidents in recent months involving the use of naughty words resulted in the firing of one auditor and the investigation of another dozen employees.
Victorian-era morals, indeed.
According to numerous sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the latest firestorm was set off at the beginning of February when a sexually explicit note was found scrawled on a bathroom stall in a men’s room near the Controller’s Office on the 12th floor of the Municipal Services Building. The writing referenced a sex act between Chief Deputy City Controller Harvey Rice and his partner, political consultant Marty O’Rourke, who ran Butkovitz’s election campaign and is now contracted to provide public relations and communications services to the office for $30,000 a year.
The powers that be were not pleased. Sources with knowledge of the situation say Butkovitz quickly brought in a private investigator from the Keystone Intelligence Network, which removed the stall door and dusted it for fingerprints.
About a dozen employees were interrogated on city time by the investigator, with no union representation, and forced—under implied threat to their jobs—to provide fingerprints and a handwriting sample by transcribing the message on the stall, “Harvey sucks Marty’s dick.” Employees were alarmed that during the course of the interrogations they were questioned about what they thought was confidential information from their personnel files and medical records.
Employees under investigation say they were also told that a hate crime had been committed. A police spokesperson said the PPD had no record of any recent contact from the Controller’s Office regarding a hate crime.
Keystone Intelligence Network Director William Fleisher confirmed that his firm was hired to undertake an investigation for the Controller’s Office, but declined further comment on any details.
Asked to confirm the incident, Butkovitz Spokesman Brian Dries said only, “This is a personnel matter that is currently under investigation and as such, there will be no comment.” The office declined to confirm or deny any facts or address additional questions about how much the investigation cost, why the dozen employees were singled out of an office of more than a hundred, or whether any HIPAA privacy rules were broken through disclosure of employees’ medical records to the investigators.
According to one source, after PW contacted the Controller’s Office for comment, the employees questioned in the door- writing incident were told by upper management that anyone suspected of speaking to reporters affiliated with the newspaper would be subject to further investigation by Keystone and subsequent punishment.
Rice, apparently upset because no one has been fired, reportedly walked out of the office nearly two weeks ago and hadn’t returned as of yesterday. He didn’t respond to phone calls and email requesting comment.
His absence has reportedly resulted in a void of leadership, since a number of sources close to the office claim that he and O’Rourke run the whole show and Butkovitz is a mere political figurehead.
Whether the mysterious bathroom scribbler will ever be caught and brought to justice, and how many taxpayer dollars will be spent hunting him down, is still up in the air.
For now, whoever did the deed still has a job. Rafael Kaplan isn’t so lucky.
Kaplan was a promising young auditor certified as a CPA and boasting a 4.00 M.B.A. from Rutgers Camden School of Business. He joined the Controller’s Office in June 2011 after stints with the city’s Department of Revenue and the IRS.
In an October progress report reviewed by PW , Kaplan received rankings of satisfactory and superior across a 10-point evaluation signed by his immediate superior, Audit Supervisor Eugene McQuary. McQuary checked a box indicating that he would request to have Kaplan on his team for future assignments.
What Kaplan didn’t realize at the time was that he had already sealed his fate, signed in ink with the s-word.
The precipitation of his downfall came in early September, during a course on white-collar fraud taught by one Sammy Antar. Antar was the chief financial officer of Crazy Eddie, the electronics retailer that perpetrated one of the largest and most notorious security frauds of the 1980s, a precursor to more recent Enron and Madoff scandals.
Antar cooperated with prosecutors and gave evidence against his cousin and uncle, the firm’s co-founders, escaping prison time himself though coming away with three felony convictions. He now leads seminars on white-collar crime for law enforcement agencies, professional groups, businesses and universities.
That’s how Antar found himself in the Controller’s Office in September, telling his story to employees and giving them tips for spotting fraud. (In a note of irony, one of Antar’s warnings to auditors is to not get too close to the people they’re auditing so as to not compromise their judgment. Butkovitz should take note—he’s been criticized for using audits as a political stick and carrot to attack his enemies and protect his friends.) Kaplan, while he thought the course content excellent, took issue with the choice of presenter because he had a personal history with scammers—he was once ripped off by a disreputable diamond appraisal on a purchase of an engagement ring.
“As someone who was once the victim of a fraud and who lost thousands of dollars as a result of it, I found Mr. Antar’s presentation to be morally and ethically reprehensible,” Kaplan says. He made his feelings known on an anonymous survey passed out at the end of the course, writing, “Why would the City of Philadelphia hire a criminal PIECE OF SHIT to teach us a course? . . . He doesn’t even deserve to be hired to clean toilets.”
Kaplan’s anonymity was short-lived. He mentioned his displeasure with Antar in an aside to a supervisor following the presentation, but didn’t spare another thought about the matter until Oct. 24, when he was called into a disciplinary hearing and asked whether he was the author of the anonymous survey containing the dreaded s-word. “I reacted with integrity by telling the truth,” Kaplan says. He apologized and said it wouldn’t happen again, only to be unexpectedly and abruptly fired on Dec. 9, 11 days before his probationary period ended and he would have gained civil-service protections. Washing his mouth out with soap, it seems, wouldn’t have been sufficient.
“Your reaction [on the anonymous survey] suggests that when you dislike something or someone you may handle the situation in a less than professional manner,” his termination paper read, signed by Post Audit Deputy City Controller Gerald Micciulla (the office declined comment on Kaplan’s saga).
Antar was surprised to hear about Kaplan’s termination. “It doesn’t bother me that he said that,” the former white-collar criminal says. “He has every right to voice his opinion of me. It was wrong for the City of Philadelphia to fire him for what he said about me.”
The last word on Kaplan’s rejection notice reads, “The vulgar language expressed by you in the attachment, which you acknowledge as having written, places you at high risk for embarrassing the Controller’s Office, discrediting the professionalism of the office, and causing unwanted negative publicity.”
The office is doing a fine job in those departments on its own.