This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
A Philadelphia grand jury has recommended criminal charges against Priscilla Wright, 50, who until January was the Philadelphia School District’s manager of small business development.
In 2013, as the city reeled from the closure of 23 public schools, the grand jury alleges, Wright used her influence to take advantage of the situation.
In an elaborate orchestration, she allegedly pushed a $900,000 contract to a mom-and-pop trucking vendor tasked with transporting supplies and furniture from the closed schools to storage facilities.
In reality, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office said, Wright duped the trucking company into acting as a front for a series of subcontractors who were actually friends and family members acting under business aliases – a clear breach of conflict of interest statutes.
"Because it was such a large project, if you were somebody in the know over at the School District, you would know that if you look like a qualified bidder, you were probably going to get a piece of the action," said Douglas Rhoads, the assistant district attorney working on the case.
Rhoads says Wright’s plan unfurled as the trucking vendor, Murphy Transporting Services, began to figure out that it was stuck laboring without realizing the bulk of the profits.
"You literally have the Murphys working for the school, but only in name alone," said Rhoads. "It was really Priscilla Wright behind the scenes, cutting her own family into a profit share while the Murphys were the ones doing the grunt work."