Wednesday, March 30, 2022

How The Feds & The Inquirer Teamed Up To Destroy Our Lives

By Betsy Mulgrew

At 6 a.m. on September 13, 2012, my husband and I were roused from our bed, placed under arrest and paraded in handcuffs in front of a tipped-off and frenzied media.

As the scene was broadcast throughout the day to the region, our friends and family watched in horror, including my mother, a stroke victim who was lying in a nursing home.

Needless to say, this was the darkest day of our lives. 

No amount of courage can prepare you for reading an indictment with your name on it versus the United States of America.

No single document can make feel more alienated from your countrymen. 

No document can make you feel more worthless, make you feel as if your entire life has been erased, and all your good deeds undone.

And it all happened because my husband and I were pawns in a bigger game that the feds were playing.

For two years, Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Gray was after my husband, Bob Mulgrew, as part of his quest to take down John "Johnny Doc" Dougherty. The business manager of IBEW Local 98 who was my husband’s friend and former employer, was also a longtime target of the feds.

For two years Gray, had badgered my husband to come in and “cooperate” -- that is, to play a role in his plan to incriminate Dougherty. Since my husband had no “dirt” on Dougherty and refused to play along, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gray got tired of threatening my husband. And so, after two years Gray tried a new tactic. He decided to come after me, Bob's wife.

It's a common prosecutorial strategy known as "climbing the ladder." Assistant U.S. Attorney Gray wanted to use me and my husband to get to his intended target, Johnny Doc.

Gray made his objective plain. He planned to charge me with federal crimes in order to strong arm my husband into aiding his take-down of John Dougherty. Gray explicitly conveyed his true intentions to Bob’s attorney, stating, “We will see who he likes better, his friends or his wife.”

Mr. Gray followed through with the threat and had us publicly arrested to send John Dougherty a message.

In court filings, the feds accused us of misdirecting hundreds of thousands of dollars from a grant program to advance my husband’s political ambitions. To the media, Mr. Gray characterized the indictment as stealing from the taxpayers to enrich our own lives.

The only problem was -- the alleged crime never happened. We're still looking for the hundreds of thousands of dollars that Gray claimed were missing.

Two years prior to our arrest, in August 2010, the FBI conducted a very public simultaneous raid on all involved with the Friends of Dickinson Square grant program. The press had been tipped off and were waiting with cameras.

David Rech, the president of the program, was interrogated for hours, and threatened but not charged. Rech ran a business in Queen Village, where his office there was raided as well. While Rech was away on business, a Kenyan-born secretary in his office was held at gun point by federal agents and compelled to answer their questions.

The secretary posed no threat and knew nothing about FDS. But after she was harassed at gunpoint, she left and Rech was never able to get in contact with her again.

Our home was searched and raided. While the press camped outside, IRS agents and FBI agents looked though every drawer and closet. And then they expanded to search to include everyone who had ever performed work for the program -- mostly local teens and retirees.

All of them were subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury. Our brother-in-law, a foreigner with legal status, was threatened with deportation.

My innocent husband wound up pleading guilty to a crime that never occurred because he was frightened about what the feds would do to me.

At our trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gray claimed that we had sent our children to "private" schools and took a lavish trip to Ireland, all paid for with taxpayer funds.

None of this was true. We chose to send our children to Catholic schools, the same schools many people from our South Philadelphia area use.

In court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gray keep saying "private schools" to distort the truth and imply we were leading a life of privilege to the jury and the media. Gray asked how people like us could afford to send our children to private schools. 

I could have told him how, through hard work and sacrifice.

Just like any other parent in this country. I worked fulltime as a real estate agent. I was able to take my family on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Ireland in 2006, only to have it turn into a bad memory for our family because of Assistant U.S. Attorney Gray’s accusations.

Gray told the court that we took to Ireland a large Cannon Powershot G2 digital camera that had been purchased to document the progress of the grant program [this was well before cell phones with cameras.]

I still have the small digital camera that we took with us, along with photos from the trip.

The grant program my husband was involved with was born out of need. Our neighborhood had become a haven for dumping and graffiti. Our quality of life was suffering, so people in the neighborhood were mobilizing to stop the onslaught.

A large park in the area, Dickinson Square, had become a haven for drug use. A concerned group of residents, known as the Friends of Dickinson Square, had banded together in the late 1980s and early 1990s to kick off some volunteerism in the neighborhood and help save the park.

At the time the city was looking for people to adopt vacant lots, the city could not keep up with the demand to keep streets clean and litter off lots. Short dumping was a very real problem.

During this time Bob worked for State Rep. Bill Keller, who was first elected in 1992. Bob met David Rech when he walked into Rep. Keller’s office in 1993 to talk about the graffiti problem. Both men took the initiative to organize block cleanups and remove graffiti from home and storefronts.

The chief complaints to Rep. Keller’s office in those days were trash, graffiti and short dumping. Around this time Rep. Keller heard about a grant program in Harrisburg used to clean up and beautify inner city neighborhoods. He applied for a grant to rid the neighborhood of dangerous eyesores that had become a blight on generations-old housing and its inhabitants.

After the state approved the grant money, David Rech resurrected the Friends of Dickinson Square, named after the park. The duties of the Friends of Dickinson Square were to try to keep clean vacant 
lots and parks in our area.

Neighbors would report new sightings of trash and graffiti to Rep. Keller’s office. Local teenagers and some retired men from the neighborhood were hired to do the filthy back-breaking work of cleaning lots.

Most of the work was done during the summer months when the teenagers were on break, when the heat added to the stench of cleaning lots. The teens were paid a stipend from the grant program. Construction debris and household trash were all too common on our streets. Pocket lots were created and fenced in to stop short dumping.

The Friends of Dickinson Square [FDS] impacted at least 301 different lots by either cleaning, fencing, removing graffiti or converting those lots into gardens. My husband estimates that he has volunteered over 20,000 hours to help our community.

Duties of FDS were to keep clean the vacant lots and parks in the service area. It was a constant battle and a daunting task as there were almost daily trash that was strewn on the lots.

The parks included: Dickinson Square, at 5th and Ritner; Murphy Recreation, and the Edward O'Malley Athletic Association at 2nd and Moore Streets. This service area in South Philadelphia ran from Christian Street south to Bigler Street, and from Seventh street to the river.

At times, FDS assisted other organizations outside this area but the focus was to remove or cover graffiti
and clean alleys and lots in the geographic area. The work was done with volunteers from the Cement Masons Local Union 592, IBEW Local Union 98, and the Operating Engineers Local Union 542.

The Cement Masons would bring their apprentices each weekend during the fall and spring when FDS had projects prepared for them. FDS would usually get a shipment of ten yards of concrete that the Cement Masons would lay to improve sidewalks, curbs and walkway that FDS was installing in converted gardens.

To prepare for this delivery FDS would have to remove ten yards of old concrete and usually a load of trash. Each yard of concrete weighed 4,000 lbs. FDS would have to remove or relocate 40,000 pounds to prepare for each weekend's drop. 

On large sites, FDS would borrow a backhoe that either my husband would operate or FDS would ask for a volunteer from the Operating Engineers Local 542. But most of the work was accomplished by volunteers on small pocket gardens where a machine could not be used.

The FDS group would have to load the leased trucks by hand, take the trash and concrete to the dump or recycling center. FDS prepared many fall concrete pours in the summer when the teen volunteers were available. The concrete was broken up with sledgehammers, loaded on the trucks and unload and until FDS purchased a small dump truck in 2006, which made the task easier.

Volunteers would also load 200 pound railroad ties from a rail yard donating them to the organization, and then they had to be unloaded by hand. Once they were installed FDS volunteers would head to Fairmount Park on Belmont Plateau to pick up and unload compost, and then load and unload mulch.

The goal was to create a Bridge of Beauty. Although FDS did not own these lots, the hope was that they would remain clean and enhance our neighborhood until a later date when they would be replaced with homes.

This has now been achieved with nearly all the lots that FDS improved. My husband has a complete list of the 270 lots, and 31 abandoned homes that were in dire need of clean-ups.

We were out to beautify the neighborhood, but the government viewed our efforts as a criminal enterprise.

After we were indicted, Bob and I had to hire attorneys. The death blow to us during our trial was a woman who worked with Friends of Dickinson Square Park (note the addition of the word Park) who moved into the area in 2006. She told the jury that no one had ever heard of the Friends of Dickinson Square at Rep. Keller’s office.

Mr. Gray presented this testimony to make it seem that the Friends of Dickinson Square had never performed any public service. The witness’s complete lack of knowledge was helpful to Mr. Gray. She was oblivious to the fact that program was operated from Rep. Keller’s office and that the workers met there to get their daily orders.

I don't know how anybody could have missed what was going on. The workers wore bright orange T-shirts when they showed up at Rep. Keller's office and when they worked in the park.

During trial, Mr. Gray submitted a falsified document and tried to pass it off as an official Department of Community of Economic Development form. A witness from the Department, called by the prosecution, twice said that the form was not their form. Mr. Gray persisted until the judge sustained the defense’s objection to that line of questioning.

Another witness was a nephew of ours who had worked during high school and college for the grant program. The young man did work, he did perform his duties. And then he was threatened with IRS action.

The IRS had uncovered $30,000 in income, earned through the program, that our nephew failed to disclose to the government (his problem, not ours).

The government used our nephew as a key witness against us. This young man said on the stand that the grant program was a joke and that no one worked.

His time on the stand revealed an almost showman side of his nature; he seemed to delight in being in the spotlight. On the witness stand, he got the attention he wanted. And my husband and I were the ones who wound up suffering.

Contrary to the nephew's testimony, there are volumes of receipts, photo timelines and documents showing that the work was completed, along with testimony from all the workers. All of the teens and retirees testified that they worked.

Work done by the program was featured in the South Philadelphia Review and on the local TV news. In my opinion, this witness decided to save his own skin by not telling the truth. 

The trial also highlighted more misconduct by the prosecutors. Throughout the long duration of the case, several defense witnesses had passed away. The government had interviewed each of these witnesses but claimed that their notes from those interviews had been lost, FBI records known as "302s," records that might have helped our case.

Bank records also went missing and were mysteriously unavailable for our defense. My husband’s plea bargain even prohibits us from submitting FOIA requests for this information. 

The evening of our second full day of trial, Mr. Gray called my attorney, and offered Bob a deal. The government was willing to drop all charges against me if my husband would plead guilty to filing a false tax return.

The tax owed was no more than a few thousand dollars. But, somehow it turned into a $120,000 IRS lien.

We also have a lien on our home for $200,0000, which was for the grants received by FDS. These are grants that the State of Pa agreed were used according to the grant applications. That's why the state closed out the grants. The state found that no money was missing, but the feds came to a different conclusion.

At the end of the trial, after Bob had agreed to plead guilty, Bob’s attorney had Mr. Gray admit in open court that no funds from the program had gone missing. No reporter present in the courtroom mentioned this in any of their stories.

My husband’s decision to plead guilty was heart-wrenching but calculated. The prime reason my husband pleaded guilty was because the media was against us. My husbanded decided he could not take a chance with a jury that may have already thought that we had committed a crime.

Had we been found guilty, we both could have gone to jail for decades. All for a non-existent crime.

Watching my husband plead guilty was like watching someone push your child off a cliff and you are powerless to stop it. Our family was the victim of an overzealous, overreaching, manipulative, and deceptive prosecution.

The feds take no prisoners. And they usually have the media on their side.

Watching the Inquirer always run with the prosecution's version of the facts shook me to my core. My unwavering faith in the media and my government has been shattered. My sense of security in my own country’s ability to protect me was gone.

No media outlet should be in the business of shaming and condemning its citizens. Blinded by the potential of a salacious news story, the Inquirer unwittingly (or perhaps deliberately) helped the feds to humiliate and weaken already traumatized people.

We were followed by a photographer at the courtroom and we had a cameraman and a media personality knock on our door. In the ensuing years I have written to most of the journalists at the Inquirer telling them in great detail what happened to us, with no response.

When the media sides with the prosecution, it does not allow for a defendant’s truth. We deserved to be believed. My plight as a woman who was used as a pawn to get my husband to confess to something he didn't do should be recognized for what it is -- oppression.

I deserved to be heard. Time after time, I have pleaded with the Inquirer to listen to me. The response: Nothing. I thank Big Trial for giving me this platform.

Even after our very public arrest, I still thought the government just had their facts wrong. I thought as soon as we gave them our facts it would all be remedied. How naïve of me. In my opinion, the feds don’t want the truth. They want convictions, regardless of whether you're innocent.

No federal prosecutor, FBI agent, IRS agent, or federal judge is going to tell me we stole money. It did not happen. Show me the man and I will show you the crime. That was the motto of Lavrenity Beria, head of Joseph Stalin’s secret police. In my opinion, it was also the motto of Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Gray. 

I want my life back, I want to live the life we created for ourselves, not the one forced on us by Paul Gray and the feds. We are good people, we have a good family, we come from good families. We met senior week in Wildwood having graduated from Neuman/Goretti High School in 1975, and last November, we celebrated 45 years of marriage.

For us, life was nose to the grindstone, with no detours. We live in the same house we bought before our marriage and have four wonderful children. This burden should to be lifted from our shoulders. I want to enjoy life instead of every waking hour reliving our horror and the injustice.

Our friends are starting to retire, but we won't be joining him. Bob, who graduated at the top of his class at Drexel University, taking the top awards for Business Administration and Accounting, is practically unemployable. 

He has lost his pension and our life savings fighting these charges. The feds do what they do because they can, and there is no accountability.

Mr. Gray took our life’s accomplishments and turned it into a crime. Shame on him and his collaborators, in the government and the media.

Next: In the Traffic Court case, the feds indict Bob Mulgrew for a second time.


  1. And the Inquirer and those it is in cahoots with, act immorally and unethically to protect those they favor- which is themselves, local tax avoiding fake charity billionaires, like Trump-supporting, Republican Josh Harris and its benefactor Pope Gerry Lenfest, et al, Jim Kenney, The Outlaw, among others

    1. I’ll give you credit Albert, no matter the subject, you always respond with the same answer.


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