State Rep. Margo Davidson, D-164 of Upper Darby, announced her resignation Thursday after being criminally charged with theft related to fraudulent per diem charges and campaign finance reporting violations, as well as hindering apprehension or prosecution for asking a witness to lie to the Office of the Attorney General.
“State representatives swear an oath to use their office for public service — not fraudulent personal gain,” said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro in a release announcing the charges. “We will uphold the laws of the commonwealth without bias, and we will continue to uncover corruption wherever it is found.”
Delaware County Democratic Party Chair Colleen Guiney had no comment Thursday. Delco GOP Chair Tom McGarrigle could not be reached for comment.
Davidson, who serves as Democratic chair of the House State Government Committee and sits on the Government Oversight Committee, issued her own statement Thursday taking “legal responsibility for improper record keeping and reimbursement of expenses,” and stating she would make full restitution of “$6,925 that was not administered properly.”
“I further take responsibility for and regret not fully participating with the investigation,” she added.
Davidson, who has served in the 164th District since 2011, becoming the first Black woman and Democrat elected to the seat, allegedly profited off taxpayer dollars by filing bogus vouchers with the House Comptroller’s Office seeking reimbursement for overnight stays in Harrisburg when she was not in that city between 2015 and 2019.
An affidavit of probable cause for her arrest authored by OAG Special Agent Matthew Smith and filed in Dauphin County Court says state representatives provide signed or signature-stamped vouchers to the Comptroller’s office for expenses incurred “in the performance of (the representative’s legislative duties.” The forms also indicate the representative will not seek reimbursement for those expenses elsewhere.
But Smith found that Davidson, 58, of the 1600 block of Garrett Road, submitted 24 receipts for reimbursements on things like gas, parking and tolls that had already been covered by the “Friends of Margo Davidson” Political Action Committee between 2015 and 2019.
“By submitting campaign receipts to the Comptroller’s Office as though they were legislative expenses, Davidson directly profited without having to incur any actual expense,” the affidavit says. “Those taxpayer-funded Comptroller payments went directly into Davidson’s pocket for ‘expenses’ that she did not incur.”
The affidavit states that Davidson submitted vouchers for overnight stays at the Hilton Harrisburg and Hilton Garden Inn hotels from 2016 to 2019 that had already been paid for by her campaign at no expense to her personally. Only about one half of those expenditures were actually disclosed on finance campaign reports, the affidavit says.
Davidson was also allegedly reimbursed for overnight stays that never occurred. The affidavit states that between 2017 and 2019, approximately one-third of overnight per diem reimbursements paid to Davidson were for stays that had either already been covered by her campaign or were fictitious.
Smith determined what nights Davidson allegedly falsified overnight stay reimbursements by checking cell phone location data showing she was in the eastern part of the state and through toll vouchers that Davidson had also presented for reimbursement on those days, according to the affidavit.
Smith also discovered numerous alleged issues with the “Friends of Margo Davidson” PAC. Though PACs cannot accept or distribute funds without a chairperson or treasurer, the investigation found that there had been no chairperson on that PAC since July 2015 and that Davidson solely controlled the PACs finances between 2015 and 2019.
The investigation revealed $8,000 worth of undisclosed or falsely reported expenditures between 2015 and 2019, mostly attributed to 18 undisclosed cash withdrawals between 2016 and 2019, according to the affidavit.
The affidavit also lists seven undisclosed hotel charges in Harrisburg for hundreds of dollars between September 2016 and February 2019, as well as a $1,030 charge to the PAC account in October 2015 for the Hope and Glory Inn in Irvington, Virginia.
Smith notes the Hope and Glory charge was not initially reported and was later falsely reported to have occurred in 2016 – after a contentious primary election that was decided by less than 750 votes, according to the affidavit.
The investigation also revealed that Davidson allegedly listed a $600 purchase from St. Johns Co. in August 2017 that was falsely attributed as partial repayment for a $10,000 loan she had made to her campaign. That loan had already been repaid in full approximately two months earlier, according to the affidavit.
Two other charges – a $400 payment to Davidson’s Nordstrom credit card and a $230 payment to a Hilton Hotel in Virginia Beach, Va. – were also never disclosed on finance reports, according to the affidavit.
Davidson testified before a grand jury in this case on May 19, the affidavit says. Investigators asked her to disclose the name and contact information of a person mentioned during that testimony, which her attorney provided in June, according to the affidavit.
That person, identified only as “witness” in the affidavit, allegedly told investigators that Davidson called her May 21 from an unrecognized number and asked her to lie to OAG investigators about the purpose of her trips to Virginia.
Davidson allegedly told the witness her phone calls were being intercepted and instructed the witness to say that she had suggested Davidson stay at the Hope and Glory Inn, according to the affidavit. Davidson also allegedly directed the witness to say the purpose of her trip was to research whether she should be included in a book the witness was writing.
The witness reported that Davidson was never actually considered for the book and she was “shocked and incredibly upset” that Davidson would ask her lie, according to the affidavit.
This is not Davidson’s first brush with the law, but it is her most serious. She was involved in two traffic accidents in 2018 involving state-issued vehicles. Davidson was found guilty of failing to notify police of an accident and driving without a license, both summary offenses, in a fender bender Jan. 11, 2018. She was also found guilty of entering traffic unsafely or without giving an appropriate signal for a Feb. 2, 2018, crash in Concord that sent both drivers to the hospital. She paid a total of $200 in fines for those cases.
House Democratic Leader Joanna McClinton, D-191 of Philadelphia – who represents Darby Borough and part of Yeadon – issued a statement expressing sadness over Davidson’s resignation and recognizing her decision to accept responsibility.
“Rep. Davidson spent more than a decade in the legislature and was the first woman – and first Black woman – to represent the 164th Legislative District and serve as a House State Government Committee chairperson,” said McClinton. “She was dedicated to her constituents and always fought her hardest for those in need in Delaware County.”
McClinton indicated the party has begun choosing a new chair for the State Government Committee and that Davidson’s office in the Barclay Square Shopping Center would remain open to serve constituents until the Speaker of the House calls a special election.
“As I end this chapter, I can say with all assurance that you may have other representatives but none that will love you more,” Davidson said in her own statement, vowing to remain a voice for her community in the future. “With courage and strength and faith in my God, I move forward.”
Dauphin County Court records indicate Davidson waived a preliminary hearing on all charges Thursday and was released on her own recognizance. She is scheduled for formal arraignment Sept. 10 before Common Pleas Court Judge Scott A. Evans.
Deputy Attorney General James Price is prosecuting. Davidson is represented by attorney Geoffrey Richard Johnson of Jenkintown.