City Employee Sentenced for Public Corruption

Philadelphia employee accepted bribes while working government job

Jeffrey Blackwell’s job in the Philadelphia controller’s office was to root out corruption and mismanagement.

Instead, Blackwell was taking bribes himself—telling people he could get them city permits or contracts in exchange for cash.

The FBI learned in 2013 that several people with business before the city were paying cash bribes to Blackwell. Blackwell promised those who paid him—people seeking permits to do things like place a dumpster or sell cars—that he could cut through the red tape and help them.

“The exact thing he was getting paid to prevent by the taxpayers of Philadelphia, he was doing himself,” said Special Agent Brian Coughlin, who investigated this case out of the FBI’s Philadelphia Field Office.

But in 2015, one of Blackwell’s bribery “customers” was actually an FBI confidential source. The source captured Blackwell on tape promising a city permit for a dumpster in exchange for $3,000. The source gave Blackwell $1,700 upfront. He followed up with texts to the source demanding the remaining money—which provided additional evidence in the case.

He never actually provided any service to those who paid him, but simply the offer of a benefit in exchange for a bribe is a crime, Coughlin explained.

“Blackwell took people’s money with the promise of doing things and didn’t do them,” Coughlin said.

“I grew up in this city, and it’s very frustrating to see officials use their position for personal gain.”

Brian Coughlin, special agent, FBI Philadelphia

Blackwell’s acceptance of the bribes was so brazen that when a car dealership owner paid him a bribe by check, he cashed the check while wearing his City of Philadelphia uniform shirt. The transaction was captured on security footage that was provided to agents.

Blackwell pleaded guilty to public corruption and tax fraud charges in August 2020. He was sentenced to 22 months in prison in December 2020.

Even though he only collected about $20,000, bribery is illegal and erodes the public’s trust in its government. That’s why public corruption is one of the FBI’s top priorities for criminal cases.

“I grew up in this city, and it’s very frustrating to see officials use their position for personal gain,” Coughlin said. “We’re sending a signal that we will investigate anyone using a public resource for personal benefit.”