Philadelphia Housing Authority manager indicted on charges of extoring money from contractors

A former Philadelphia Housing Authority manager was indicted Thursday by a federal grand jury on charges that she extorted money from contractors and obstructed the investigation.

In a 22-count indictment, Kerri Bizzell was charged with demanding a percentage of contracts or fixed cash payments from businesses seeking to do repair work on free-standing PHA properties.

The indictment claims Bizzell received $25,000 over six months from two separate contractors.

Attempts to reach Bizzell and her attorney, Elizabeth Toplin, were unsuccessful.

Bizzell, 41, worked at PHA from 2006 to 2008 before being terminated.

The indictment is not related to the controversy surrounding former PHA Executive Director Carl R. Greene, who was fired for covering up payments to settle sexual-harassment complaints against him. The U.S. attorney and Department of Housing and Urban Development are conducting unrelated, broad investigations and audits of PHA.

The probe of Bizzell was triggered by a tip from a contractor, according to a source with knowledge of the investigation.

The indictment claims that Bizzell abused her position as manager in charge of awarding small repair and renovation contracts for scattered housing sites. Her job was to qualify small businesses to bid on work, evaluate bids, and select and notify companies of contract awards.

According to the indictment, Bizzell made secret demands of some of the contractors placing bids. If, for example, a contractor submitted a bid for $15,000, Bizzell would steer the contractor to inflate it to $19,000 and pocket the difference, prosecutors charged.

Prosecutors said that with one contractor, Bizzell told him he would have to pay her 10 percent of the value of each contract. He consented to pay her about 5 percent of any PHA work he got, authorities said.

With another contractor, Bizzell allegedly told him to pay her $1,000 to $2,000 for each contract she awarded his business.

The indictment also claims that when Bizzell learned of the grand jury investigation, she tried to prevent one of the contractors from disclosing payments to her, referring to payments as "sandwiches" in coded conversations.

Bizzell faces a statutory maximum possible sentence of 230 years in prison and a fine of $5.5 million if convicted on all counts.

The case was investigated by the FBI and the HUD Office of the Inspector General.

 


Contact staff writer Jennifer Lin at 215-854-5659 or jlin@phillynews.com.