29G debt leaves bitter taste

A Havertown caterer alleges in a federal lawsuit that after he tried to collect a delinquent, $29,000 banquet bill from the Philadelphia Home and School Council, a detective from the city District Attorney's Office threatened to have him arrested.

Stephen Finley, president of Finley Catering, said in a lawsuit filed last week that the council, which is the district's largest parent organization, hired his company for a banquet at the Crystal Tea Room in the Wanamaker Building in June 2008.

The tab was $30,000 for about 600 guests, minus a $1,000 deposit, according to the lawsuit.

Finley said he didn't hear any complaints. "They loved everything," he said. "They even sent a thank-you letter saying how great everything was."

But when he tried to collect the $29,000 balance, the council refused to pay, he said. Finley said he was told that the council didn't have the money to pay him because its former president, Greg Wade, had stolen more than $115,000 from the organization.

Wade pleaded guilty in 2009 and was ordered to serve 11 to 23 months' house arrest, followed by 54 months' probation, and to pay restitution.

Finley said he understood the council's predicament and offered it a payment plan. But after eight months without a payment, he began to make calls every week to collect, he said. "You just can't have a $30,000 job and not pay anything," Finley said. "My rent doesn't stop every month."

On June 18, 2010, Finley was contacted by Phillip Greenwell, a detective with the D.A.'s Office, who told him to stop trying to collect on his debt or he would have the police arrest him and file criminal charges, the lawsuit said.

Greenwell, Finley claims, told him that his orders had come from "upstairs," according to the suit.

"The cops getting involved really threw me for a loop. I'm out $30,000 and I can't collect my money?" Finley said. "It's unbelievable. Send me $200 a month, I don't care, but don't ignore me and don't threaten me."

Named as defendants in the suit are the council, members of the council, the city, the D.A.'s Office and Greenwell.

A spokeswoman for the D.A. said the office couldn't comment because it had not been served with the suit. Greenwell also declined to comment.

Council President Delores Solomon did not return requests for comment and hung up when she was reached by phone.

In January, when former council president Wade was brought in to court for paying only $155 of the $118,000 in restitution he owes, Solomon told the judge that she was "really disappointed that [Wade] has not stepped up to the plate," according to news reports.