On the eve of municipal elections comes a reminder of how the City of Chester has become a symbol for government corruption in the Delaware Valley.
The city’s former Recreational Services Manager has been arrested for stealing $100,000 from the city by paying lifeguards for shifts they didn’t cover and work they didn’t do.
An arrest affidavit said Duane Lee, 48, had 10 lifeguards bill the city for work that was never done, then pocketed half of their paychecks. It is believed the scheme dates back to 2021.
“[One ghost employee] confirmed…that she was approached by Duane Lee if she wanted to work at the pool,” the affidavit says. “Lee assisted her in filing paperwork and advised [her] to give him half of her salary, which [was done] through CashApp.” Other lifeguards gave Lee cash, according to police documents.
Detectives went through Lee’s cell phone and found more evidence. “Payment confirmations were observed from CashApp to Duane Lee’s city e-mail address confirming the CashApp transactions,” the affidavit notes. There are also text messages between Lee and one of the ghost lifeguards discussing where to meet.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation helped with the probe.
Lee is charged with theft, conspiracy, and receiving stolen property. He is currently out on bond with a hearing set for November 15.
“It is a sad day in Chester,” District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer said in a statement. “By stealing much-needed funds from the City’s treasury, the defendant and his co-conspirators have cynically and selfishly abused the public trust. The actions of this defendant damage more than just the City’s finances – by eroding the public’s trust in their government, these actions threaten the very fabric of the Chester community.”
It was the latest in a string of bad financial news for Chester.
The city is in danger of being dissolved due to its fiscal state. It is currently in federal bankruptcy court, and City Receiver Michael Doweary, who was appointed to the position in 2020 by then-Gov. Tom Wolf, warned that it could be dissolved. His chief of staff previously told DVJournal Chester needs $5 million to make payroll in January 2024.
There is also a fight over attorney fees between Doweary and outgoing mayor Thaddeus Kirkland. The receiver told the city it was expected to pay more than half a million dollars in attorney fees. It involves the city’s underwater retirement system. This isn’t counting the $127 million in unfunded pension benefits and $232 million owed for retiree healthcare.
Kirkland and two city council members face legal sanctions as well. Last month, the city council approved a resolution waiving certain fees for the Authority’s planned Veterans Memorial Park Regional Stormwater Facility. According to court documents, those fees would have been collected from a $9 million state grant.
That caused attorneys for the state of Pennsylvania to tell a judge that Doweary and the Commonwealth Court have been subject to “intentionally vexatious and obdurate behavior by certain City elected officials which has wasted taxpayer dollars and…time that the City of Chester does not have.”
The city also received a nearly $860,000 bill from the Internal Revenue Service in August. Court documents blamed City Councilman William Morgan. He oversaw Chester’s finances before a judge removed him from the role earlier this year.
Another issue for Morgan: the $400,000 in city funds he lost in a phishing scheme.
No one from the city would comment on Lee’s arrest.