PHA claimant wants $25,000 a day for delay

A former Philadelphia Housing Authority employee who filed a sexual-harassment complaint against executive director Carl R. Greene still has not received a settlement agreement from the housing agency and expects to be paid an additional $25,000 for every day she is made to wait, her attorney said Monday.

John M. Elliott, a well-known litigator from Blue Bell, said his client, Elizabeth Helm, a 29-year-old interior designer who alleged Greene grabbed and groped her at a Center City bar during a discussion over a promotion, now expects at least $375,000 to settle her claim.

Greene was suspended for 30 days last week by PHA's five-member board pending an internal investigation into sexual-harassment claims filed by Helm and three other women, who settled their cases since 2004 for $98,000, $200,000, and $350,000. He is currently undergoing medical care for stress an at undisclosed location out of state.

Elliott said Helm had refused to sign any gag order to keep the details of her complaint quiet. "That's how they covered up the other settlements," he said.

Elliott also said that Helm would cooperate with federal prosecutors, the FBI, and auditors from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, all of whom are now investigating the Housing Authority, sources say.

A spokeswoman for PHA sharply rejected Elliott's comments about Helm's claim.

"PHA is not responding to these extortionate demands," Nichole Tillman said.

A team of officials from Housing and Urban Development is scheduled to arrive Tuesday to begin a wide-ranging review of PHA's operations.

Apart from that review, prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Philadelphia last week subpoenaed a broad array of documents from PHA - including information about all four sexual-harassment cases and details on several PHA-related nonprofits, including Tenant Support Services Inc., which collected up to $5,000 from contractors for a celebration of Greene's 10th year at the agency.

The subpoena also demands records from the Pennsylvania Institute for Affordable Housing Professionals (PIAHP), which collected $2.12 weekly payroll contributions from about 300 nonunion employees to stage various management retreats.

Beyond those payroll deductions, PHA has required a $200 training fee be paid to the Institute for Affordable Housing Professionals from each new landlord who wants to take part in PHA's Section 8 subsidized-housing rental program. The fee covers training seminars for those landlords conducted by a nationally known real estate group.

Until last year, landlords taking part in the training paid their $200 fees directly to PHA, which in turn compensated the training group - the Institute of Real Estate Management - for conducting the sessions.

The PHA website now instructs prospective Section 8 landlords to send "Money Order, Personal Money Order, or Cashier's Check" to PIAHP.

Payments to the Institute for Real Estate Management for conducting the training seminars, however, continued to come directly from PHA, a spokesman for the training group said.

The financial relationship between PHA and PIAHP is not clear.

Kirk Dorn, who was a PIAHP official for several years before he left the housing agency, said the management events - amusement-type outings, laser tag games, and bowling - were "a bonding activity."

"Some of the team-building events that PIAHP did might appear trivial on the surface, and they might be trivial. But the idea was to get people that work very hard every day to an activity that might be fun," said Dorn, who was the secretary of the group.

Dorn said he was baffled by the change in the Housing Authority rules requiring all new landlords who want to be enrolled in the Section 8 program to make $200 payments to PIAHP. Dorn said that until he left in January 2009, landlords were paying the $200 directly to PHA.

The training contractor, the Institute of Real Estate Management, said it also was unaware the housing agency changed the rules to have payments sent to PIAHP.

Gregory Carbone, coordinator of the institute's program, said his group had been conducting the same training for the past decade for the Housing Authority and has always been paid by the authority.

After Dorn left PHA last year, it was not clear who replaced him as PIAHP's secretary. Nor is it clear who now runs the nonprofit or whether it is required to file federal tax returns, known as Form 990s. While most nonprofits must file the forms on an annual basis and make them public upon request, some nonprofits that are created by government entities are exempt.

Tillman, PHA's spokeswoman, said she did not know whether the nonprofit had filed any 990s.

In voting last week to suspend Greene with pay for 30 days, PHA board members said they wanted to find out why the sexual-harassment settlements, paid by PHA's insurer, never came to the board's attention.

Board members have also indicated they will expand their investigation as needed. Their unanimously approved resolution authorizes an "independent investigation of allegations made against" Greene, and is not limited to the sexual-harassment charges. The investigation is expected to take about a month.

 


Contact staff writer Mark Fazlollah at 215-854-5831 or mfazlollah@phillynews.com.

Inquirer staff writer Nathan Gorenstein contributed to this article.