- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 14, 2003

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A top aide to Philadelphia Mayor John Street increased a consulting contract by $100,000 so a politically connected firm could be added, says a former administration official who claims the firm did little or no work.

A $200,000 contract intended to help the city reduce municipal workers’ health care costs in 2001 already had been awarded when the aide, George Burrell, ordered that West Insurance Group be added for another $100,000, said Linda Berkowitz, who supervised the contract.

Miss Berkowitz told the Philadelphia Inquirer that Mr. Burrell also ordered that West Insurance be kept in the deal the next year despite her complaint that it had done little or no work.

“In 25 years, it’s the only thing I ever did that I’m embarrassed about,” said Miss Berkowitz, who now works for the city school district.

The total bill paid for the health care contract came to $450,000, of which $150,000 went to West Insurance, the Inquirer reported.

West Insurance President Kobie West declined to answer questions about the contract.

Mr. Burrell, Mr. Street’s secretary of external affairs, acknowledged that money was added for West Insurance, but said he didn’t remember hearing that it had done little or no work.

“This was not intended to be a bone to West,” he said. “We expected that the Wests would provide real services.”

Mr. Burrell said he was trying to fulfill the administration’s goal of hiring more minority-owned firms.

The city’s Minority Business Enterprise Council, which helps businesses owned by women and minorities get city contracts, has become a focal point of an ongoing FBI investigation into city government contracts. The FBI bugged Mr. Street’s office, but the mayor’s role in the probe has never been made clear and he has denied wrongdoing.

Miss Berkowitz said she had not been contacted by the FBI.

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