SEPTA director took bribes of Barbra Streisand tickets, hotel stays for Pope’s visit and thousands of cash, feds say

Federal authorities on Friday charged a former SEPTA director with running contracts worth millions with a corporate executive who showered him with bribes, including cash, tickets for Barbra Streisand and expensive hotel stays.

Prosecutors say James Stevens, the transit agency’s former director of video evidence, routinely extorted payments from Robert Welsh, the former chief operating officer of Delaware-based Spector Logistics, while the company held SEPTA’s $4.6 million general maintenance contract for monitoring equipment between 2014 and 2019.

Stevens, 69, from Somerdale, Camden County, is also said to have sent works worth millions more to Spector and another Welsh-owned company.

The pair were charged in an unsealed 16-count indictment on Thursday, including charges of conspiracy, bribery, extortion and honest services fraud. The most serious count each man faces could send him to prison for up to 20 years.

“SEPTA exists to get people where they want to go – not to move shady insiders up a tax bracket,” said Jacqueline Maguire, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia office. “Stealing public money through backdoor deals is wrong, and the FBI will hold accountable anyone foolish enough to engage in this type of fraud.”

Stevens’ attorney, Rhonda Pantellas Low, did not respond to calls for comment on Friday, and it was unclear from court records whether Welsh, 59, of Arizona, retained the services of ‘a lawyer.

Their arrests are the latest outrage for the Philadelphia-area public transportation system, which has seen a string of federal corruption cases filed against managers and employees in recent years.

Seven former SEPTA maintenance managers have pleaded guilty in the past year to embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from SEPTA in collusion with suppliers to charge for goods that were never supplied. In exchange, they extorted bribes including hunting supplies, ATV gear, rare gold coins, and even a whippet puppy.

SEPTA spokesman Andrew Busch declined Friday to discuss the charges against Stevens and Welsh, except to say the agency would continue to cooperate with investigators as the case progresses. Yet government court records describe an equally brazen level of corruption.

“Stevens regularly told … Welsh that SEPTA could terminate Spector’s valuable general maintenance contract” at any time, according to the indictment. He “demanded that … the Welsh provide him with the valuables Stevens requested or risk losing the contract.”

Those things reportedly included: monthly cash payments totaling more than $85,000 over a four-year period, downtown hotel tabs for Stevens during the Pope’s 2015 visit to Philadelphia, meals and beverages at restaurants and bars — including the holiday bill for Stevens’ department at SEPTA and alleged donations to a charity golf tournament that prosecutors say Stevens pocketed for himself.

Additionally, according to the indictment, Stevens extorted a guarantee from Welsh that he would provide him with future employment after his retirement from SEPTA.

Prosecutors point to the fact that the men were careful to hide their communications about bribe payments as evidence that they were aware of the corrupt nature of their relationship.

Stevens, despite working for SEPTA, sent all communications to the Welshman via an email address set up on Spector’s service in which he adopted the username “arkroyal”, an apparent reference to the name of two British Royal Navy aircraft carrier, one of which was sunk by a U-Boat during World War II.

Welsh also allegedly purchased a cell phone and service for Stevens so they could keep their communications hidden.

In a brief hearing Friday in federal court, Stevens pleaded not guilty to the charges and was released on $50,000 bond. Welsh is expected to make a first court appearance in the coming days.

U.S. District Judge Berle M. Schiller has yet to set a date for their trial.

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