In testimony made public for the first time Wednesday, a former Philadelphia School District contractor said he was pressured six years ago to reoffer a $144,000-a-year job to the son of then-U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah or face consequences to his business.
David Shulick – president of the now-defunct Delaware Valley High School, which held $4 million in contracts to run two alternative schools for the district – said that after firing Chaka “Chip” Fattah Jr. in the summer of 2011, he was summoned to a meeting with the congressman where he was ordered to give the then-28-year-old his job back.
“I was told to rehire him,” Shulick testified in a deposition last year. “I had a subsequent meeting with my lobbyist, Herb Vederman, and said I did not want to rehire him. I was told I had no choice.”
That testimony was read into the record Wednesday during the second day of a civil case that the younger Fattah has filed against the federal government, alleging that leaks to the media during the 2012 bank- and tax-fraud investigation that eventually sent him to prison ruined his reputation and prospects of earning a living.
But beyond its limited relevance in that case, Shulick’s previously undisclosed account of the pressure he faced to hire Fattah Jr. revealed new allegations of misconduct by his now-incarcerated father and shed additional light on how the elder Fattah exerted his considerable political clout to line the pockets of friends and family members during his two-decade tenure.
Everyone involved in the 2011 scene Shulick described in his deposition – including the former congressman, his son, the lobbyist Vederman and Shulick himself – has since been convicted of or charged with unrelated federal crimes. None has faced charges connected to how Fattah Jr. came to be employed by Delaware Valley High School, a job government lawyers have said he was woefully unqualified to hold.
Though he had no college degree or experience working in the education field, Fattah Jr. cemented a $450,000 subcontract with Shulick in 2010 that helped bring Delaware Valley into compliance with School District rules requiring 10 percent of all contracts go to firms run by women or minorities.
Fattah Jr. was supposed to spend much of that money in service to Delaware Valley, but testimony at his 2015 criminal trial suggested that he blew most of the contract award on himself, filling his closets with designer clothing, renting a pricey condo at the Residences at Ritz-Carlton across from City Hall, and living the lifestyle of an up-and-coming young mogul.
Shulick later hired Fattah Jr. to work directly as Delaware Valley’s chief operating officer until gambling debts he incurred at the SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia and Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino & Racetrack in Chester, Delaware County, set off a chain of events that resulted in his firing in summer 2011
Testifying in his civil case Tuesday, the younger Fattah said he first learned about a potential problem from George Burrell, a former Philadelphia City Council member and longtime adviser to his father.
Fattah Jr. said Burrell called him to warn that a local news organization was preparing to publish a story that he had been gambling with public money he stole from Delaware Valley.
That story never ran and Fattah Jr. denied the allegations, saying Tuesday that he was “gambling with money from my company and my income.”
Still, shortly after that exchange with Burrell, Fattah’s consulting firm bounced a check to one of Delaware Valley’s vendors. Shulick learned of the younger Fattah’s gambling and fired him for what he described in his deposition as “gross malfeasance.”
In video testimony played in court Wednesday, Andre Bean, Delaware Valley’s former operations director, said Shulick seemed to be glad to be rid of Fattah Jr. and sent an email to top-level staff describing the thousands of dollars the School District contract required him to pay the man each month.
“He talked about how much money he was making and that Chaka raped him – metaphorically, not literally – in terms of how much he was making,” Bean said.
Yet within months, Shulick had rehired Fattah Jr., though at a reduced $144,000-a-year salary. Bean said he questioned Shulick about that decision at the time.
“The response was, Chaka’s dad told him, ‘You have to do what’s best for your company,’ ” the school director recalled.
In his own deposition, Shulick testified that he only begrudgingly rehired Fattah Jr. because of pressure from the congressman and his associates.
But, in an effort to cast doubt on that account, the younger Fattah pointed Wednesday to Shulick’s checkered relationship with the truth and his history of past statements contradicting his deposition claims.
Shulick, according to Bean, initially told Delaware Valley staff that he wanted Fattah Jr. to come back to the company.
“He felt that Chaka was a good person who hit a bad spot with the gambling and he wasn’t willing to just throw him away,” he said.
And in an Inquirer article from 2012 – nearly a year after Fattah Jr. was rehired at Delaware Valley — Shulick dismissed as “absurd” any notion that the congressman’s influence had anything to do with the decision to give his son a job.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said at the time.
The congressman and Vederman were both convicted last year in an unrelated bribery and corruption case stemming from the congressman’s use of the money of others – government grants, political donations, and bribes from Vederman – to cover his personal and political debts.
Lawyers for both men did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday on Shulick’s allegations.
Shulick faces his own federal indictment for allegedly skimming thousands of dollars from his company to pay housekeepers, nannies, and contractors working at his mansion in Gladwyne. He refused to testify in court for Fattah Jr.’s civil case, vowing that if forced, he would assert his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.
Fattah Jr. was also convicted, in part, for stealing from Delaware Valley. He is two years into a five-year prison sentence for defrauding banks and clients of his businesses as well as the Philadelphia School District through inflated budgets he and Shulick submitted for their operations at the company’s alternative schools.
In his civil case, Fattah Jr. has sought nearly $3 million in damages for negative publicity that he says destroyed his reputation after an FBI agent leaked information about the execution of a search warrant at his Ritz-Carlton condo in 2012.
Government lawyers have acknowledged the agent violated bureau standards and agreed that the congressman’s son is entitled to some damages, though they have scoffed at the amount he has demanded.
The trial concluded Wednesday with U.S. District Judge Timothy Savage saying he would issue a ruling on the case within the coming weeks.