A stream of money transfers between campaign accounts — from U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle to his younger brother Kevin, who serves in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives — has now taken center stage in a three-year defamation suit between feuding Northeast Philadelphia Democrats.
State Sen. John Sabatina sued State Rep. Kevin Boyle for defamation in 2018 after Boyle allegedly circulated rumors among some of Sabatina’s friends that the senator had a skeleton in his closet that would haunt him.
Since the lawsuit began in 2018, Kevin has paid $110,000 for his legal defense out of campaign funds. Much of that funding—about 34 percent since 2018—has come in the form of transfers from campaign accounts under Brendan’s control. Such transfers between the campaign accounts of different elected officials are allowed by law.
“I don’t know if it presents legal jeopardy, but it’s certainly no way to run a railroad, so to speak,” said Matt Wolfe, a lawyer and Republican in Philadelphia who has often been a political opponent of the Boyles.
In the newest legal filings this month, Sabatina’s lawyers have won the right to take deposition testimony from people familiar with the campaign’s accounts to understand Kevin’s financial situation in case the court should render a judgement against him.
Sabatina’s lawyers have won the right to take deposition testimony from people familiar with the campaign’s accounts to understand Kevin’s financial situation in case the court should render a judgement against him.
“To the extent that these payments were made to pay legal fees for Defendant Boyle’s defense in this litigation, the testimony is relevant to aid in establishing Defendant Boyle’s financial condition, as it relates to Plaintiff’s entitlement to punitive damages in this case,” one of the court documents from Sabatina’s lawyers reads.
Additionally, Sabatina’s lawyers are interested in a recent payment from Kevin’s campaign account recently made to Scott Heppard.
Heppard currently serves as Brendan’s chief of staff for his district offices in Philadelphia. But in 2016, he was a volunteer manager with Kevin’s state senate campaign—the run against John Sabatina that first touched off the feud.
“Despite signing an affidavit warranting that he was a volunteer campaign manager during that campaign, campaign finance reports show that Friends of Kevin Boyle paid Mr. Heppard sums of money for ‘consultancy services,’ shortly after the election—and, most recently, paid him $5,000 on November 25, 2020 for some undisclosed ‘reimbursement’ — made only two months after Mr. Heppard was deposed in this suit,” the legal filings from Sabatina read.
Kevin Boyle told Broad + Liberty that the payments are long-standing debts that he is finally able to pay off: “The $5000 to Scott Heppard was another payment to address the outstanding debt still owed to him and addressed on years of campaign finance reports.”
“Friends of Kevin Boyle expects to pay the remainder of all debts this election cycle,” Kevin continued. “Since the end of 2016 we’ve made consistent efforts to reduce debts incurred from 2 highly expensive campaigns that cycle where over $1 million was spent.”
Kevin Boyle did not respond to a follow-up question about whether Heppard had indeed signed an affidavit that he was a volunteer during the 2016 campaign, as alleged in the new court filings.
Campaign finance filings from Kevin’s 2016 run against Sabatina do show that Heppard was owed more than $14,000 for “consulting services.”
Wolfe speculated that Sabatina is seeking damages intended to be a punishment for Kevin Boyle’s alleged defamation of him. That’s why his lawyers are seeking detailed financial information.
Wolfe speculated that Sabatina is seeking damages intended to be a punishment for Kevin Boyle’s alleged defamation of him.
“For punitive damages, the financial condition of the person is relevant because frankly if you’re suing a billionaire for something and you get punitive damages of $10,000 that is, you know, the flea on the ass of an elephant, that’s nothing at all” Wolfe said.
“On the other hand, for somebody in a different financial situation, you know, for the average dad who’s behind on his mortgage and has three kids in college, a $3,000 punitive damage award could be crushing. So, the financial condition of the person you’re suing is relevant, Boyle can’t have it both ways. You can’t say ‘Why, I only make my legislator salary and that’s it. And I don’t have any savings.’ If he has his campaign paying out his legal fees, certainly that has to be factored into his financial condition.”