A former Philadelphia congressman who was ensnared in the infamous Abscam scandal of the 1970s and 1980s is said to be involved in a recently unsealed election fraud case.
When the federal government announced last week the guilty plea of Philadelphia Judge of Elections Domenick DeMuro, it referenced “Consultant #1” as the person who paid DeMuro to stuff ballots in the 2015 judicial primary race in South Philadelphia.
Federal prosecutors said in court documents that the unnamed consultant is a former elected official, who “exercised influence and control” in South Philadelphia’s 39th Ward and had been hired by at least three judicial candidates in 2015.
Breaking news and the stories that matter to your neighborhood.
Former U.S. Rep. Michael “Ozzie” Myers is the only consultant paid by judicial candidates that year to check all the boxes, according to a review of campaign finance documents by NBC10. His brother and cousin run the 39th Ward, and Myers is known for his expertise in South Philadelphia politics. Myers lives across the street from the polling location where DeMuro said he added fraudulent votes.
A law enforcement source with direct knowledge of the case, and two political sources who spoke with DeMuro and Myers confirmed to NBC10 that Myers is “Consultant #1.” Multiple attempts to reach Myers were unsuccessful. His son, Michaal, said Myers would not be commenting.
“He has a checkered history in Philadelphia and national politics,” said Barry Gross, criminal defense attorney and former federal prosecutor, referring to Myers.
In 1979, while Myers was Pennsylvania’s First Congressional District representative, he was caught taking a $50,000 bribe from an FBI agent posing as an Arab sheik in what became known as Abscam.
“He made the comment ‘Money talks and B.S. walks,’ which became the theme of the Abscam case,” said Gross, who was not involved in the case.
Five other congressmen, Philadelphia’s then city council president and the Camden mayor were all sentenced to time in prison on corruption charges. Myers was sentenced to three years.
When Myers returned from prison, he made a career for himself in political consulting. He has been advising political campaigns for decades on how to navigate the South Philadelphia political infrastructure.
Campaigns pay him thousands of dollars each election season, as recent as last year’s council and judicial races, to help them connect with South Philadelphia ward leaders and voter turnout.
Ori Feibush, who unsuccessfully ran for City Council in 2015, hired Myers that year. He said that while he had issues with other consultants, Myers was not one of them.
“He was understated in what he believed he could accomplish, never guaranteed anything, never swore to anything,” Feibush said. “Just believed he could help and provided some invaluable advice throughout the campaign.”
Former congressman Bob Brady, who is Philadelphia’s Democratic party leader, defended Myers and said he thought DeMuro was lying.
“I think Mr. DeMuro did it on his own,” he said. “I can’t believe he would tell someone to do that. I would be shocked if he did.”
Messages left for DeMuro and his attorney seeking comment were not returned. A man who answered DeMuro’s cell phone said: “I’m not saying who I am. I’m not talking.”
Gross, the former prosecutor, said he was surprised to see prosecutors mention in the criminal documents that they have recordings of DeMuro with “Consultant #1” heading into the 2016 and 2017 election cycles that corroborate DeMuro’s confession. He thinks that paragraph indicates DeMuro is cooperating with authorities and that there could be more people charged.
“The government is sending a message out here to people who may have been involved with DeMuro that ‘We have evidence against you’. That there’s recordings and what Mr. DeMuro has told us is corroborated,” Gross said after reviewing the federal documents.
Gross said that, due to COVID-19, courts have been closed and grand juries were not meeting. But once the juries get back up and running, he thinks more will come from this case.
“It could go higher. There could be people he’s reporting to and he’s involved with,” Gross said.
U.S. Attorney William McSwain said in his announcement of the DeMuro plea that the case is active and ongoing.