Ingrid Shepard, who was hand-picked by City Councilwoman Cindy Bass to serve as president and treasurer for the now shuttered Germantown Special Services District, was sentenced to four years of probation.
Ingrid Shepard, who was hand-picked by City Councilwoman Cindy Bass to serve as president and treasurer for the now shuttered Germantown Special Services District, was sentenced to four years of probation last Tuesday afternoon after pleading guilty for embezzling up to $125,000 in public funds from that organization over a four-year period.
The unusually light sentence was handed down in a hearing that U.S. District Judge Barclay Surrick had closed to the public, and records of the proceeding remain sealed – raising questions about whether Shepard is cooperating with federal investigators in a separate investigation. The court does not give a reason for why it is sealing records in this case.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, who had a reporter who witnessed some of the proceedings, a lawyer mentioned something about unspecified campaign finance violations to the judge. The Inquirer also reports that Shepard herself said “I did try to alert the authorities.”
Shepard never ran for public office herself, so it is unclear whose campaign she could have been referencing. According to campaign finance records, she donated $1,000 to the Bass campaign in 2017, which is during the time that she has admitted to embezzling money from GSSD.
In an email statement for the Local, Bass said she had no knowledge of that theft, and that Shepard is solely responsible for the trouble in which she finds herself.
"Ingrid’s actions are a betrayal of trust that I and the community had in her. When she was selected, she was duty bound to serve our community with fidelity and loyalty. She failed in her promise and we are all disappointed in her,” Bass wrote. “Ingrid’s actions were hidden and done under the cover of darkness. We were completely unaware of her actions and any investigation of her criminal wrongdoing.
“Ingrid is singularly responsible for her criminal actions,” Bass continued. “The revitalization of our commercial corridor is vitally important to our community and to the whole of Philadelphia. We will move forward stronger and focused on doing what is right for our community."
Shepard, who pleaded guilty in May of one count of wire fraud, admitted to both using GSSD funds for her own personal use and moving money into the accounts of two nonprofits that she founded. She admitted to taking $125,000 during the four years she served before being asked to resign in 2019.
Shepard’s sentencing is the latest in a string of high profile events that began back in 2019, when a group of commercial property owners who were fed up with paying fees to support a special services district they said wasn’t providing any services, organized a vote to deauthorize the district and terminate operations. They wondered where all the money went and asked City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart for an audit.
Upon reviewing the organization’s finances, Rhynhart referred the matter to federal investigators. The Germantown United Community Development Corporation is now picking up the neighborhood’s trash.
Ken Weinstein, one of the property owners who organized the effort to shutter the GSSD, said Shepard’s guilty plea proves that their instincts were right.
“All I can say is that it’s a good thing we did what we did, and closed down that organization,” Weinstein said. “Otherwise the embezzling could still be continuing.”
Shepard was not indicted by federal investigators, but was instead charged by way of criminal information, a method typically used when a defendant has admitted guilt. It is also often used when the defendant is cooperating with investigators in a separate investigation, but not always.
Federal prosecutors in Philadelphia have been aggressively investigating public corruption cases in recent years. Jeffrey Blackwell, nephew of former Councilmember Jannie Blackwell pleaded guilty in 2019 for illegally soliciting payments in return for help in securing city permits; former Council Member Bobby Henon was convicted in a bribery case in 2021 and Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson was charged in a federal bribery case in connection with a consulting contract for his wife. He was acquitted last year.
The GSSD, a quasi-government agency which was created to clean streets in Germantown and received its funding from a special tax assessed against businesses in the area, was controlled by City Councilmember Cindy Bass until it was closed.
Bass, who told the Local at the time that she learned about the charge in the media, said the decision to both hire and fire Shepard was a board decision. She did not say why the board fired Shepard.
"The board of directors, which, at the time, included one former and one current staff member, interviewed, approved and recommended that I appoint her, " Bass told the Local. "Eventually, the same board determined they needed to dismiss her."
Bass said at that time that she did not know that Shepard had not been filing the required financial disclosures.
"I, along with the board, expected all financial reports would have been regularly completed accurately and submitted as required," she wrote. "The fact that allegedly did not occur concerns me a great deal. I want to see justice done and will be paying close attention to this case. I do not ever want to see any misappropriation of taxpayer dollars, which negatively impacts confidence in the system. The residents of Germantown and the entire city of Philadelphia deserve better."
Opposition to special services districts is unusual. In other parts of the city, similar districts like the Penn Treaty Special Services District in Fishtown and the Sports Complex Special Services District in South Philly are popular because they keep the highly-trafficked neighborhoods free of street trash.