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June 25, 2024

Former SEPTA official sentenced to prison for taking bribes from contractor

James Stevens, 71, received thousands of dollars in cash, concert tickets and other benefits valued at more than $100,000.

Courts Bribery
SEPTA Surveillance Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

James Stevens, the former head of SEPTA's video surveillance unit, accepted thousands of dollars in bribes and other gifts to help give an advantage to the owner of two companies seeking lucractive contracts.

The former director of SEPTA's video surveillance unit was sentenced to three years in prison for taking cash and other bribes in exchange for securing two companies millions of dollars in contracts with the transit authority, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.

James Stevens, 71, of Somerdale, New Jersey, was indicted on corruption charges in 2022 following an investigation into SEPTA contracts that were awarded to Delaware-based Spector Logistics and Blue Zebra. Prosecutors learned that Stevens extorted thousands of dollars in cash payments and other benefits from Robert Welsh, the owner of the two companies, by promising he would be awarded contracts to supply, install and maintain video surveillance equipment.

Among the gifts Stevens received from Welsh were tickets to Barbra Streisand and Billy Joel concerts, lodging and meals during Pope Francis' visit to Philadelphia in 2015, and payments to annual SEPTA holiday parties. Welsh also made a donation to a charity that Stevens used as a front to pocket more money, investigators said. And Stevens demanded that Welsh offer him future employment at Spector Logistics after his time at SEPTA, prosecutors said.

Investigators said the scheme unfolded over a period of four years and involved bribes valued at more than $100,000.

Stevens, who worked at SEPTA for 45 years, pleaded guilty in January to charges of conspiracy, bribery, extortion and honest services mail fraud. He requested to be spared prison time and received more than 50 letters of support from family and friends seeking leniency, but prosecutors contended he had been "relentless, selfish and greedy" in his abuse of public trust, the Courier-Post reported. He was sentenced to 37 months in prison. 

Welsh, 60, pleaded guilty in August and is scheduled to be sentenced next month.

U.S. Attorney Jacqueline C. Romero said the sentence Stevens received "serves as a warning" to other public officials who engage in corruption.