Cop, reformer, sheriff, defendant: John Green's rise and fall

Former Philadelphia Sheriff John D. Green.

John D. Green first ran for the office of Philadelphia sheriff in 1987 as a reformer.

His predecessor, Ralph C. Passio III, had earned an almost comical reputation for running a dysfunctional department. Passio chose not to run for reelection, and the Democratic Party backed a new candidate.

That candidate was not Green, a former Philadelphia police sergeant who had been president of the Guardian Civic League, an organization of black officers.

But Green beat the party. A Simon Gratz High School graduate with a bachelor's degree from Temple University, he was endorsed by The Inquirer for his "commitment to reforming the Sheriff's Department."

Green retired 23 years later amid serious allegations of mismanagement. On Friday, the 68-year-old former sheriff was charged by federal prosecutors with receiving bribes.

City Controller Alan Butkovitz called the indictment a "vindication" of a forensic audit he had ordered of the Sheriff's Office that raised questions about possible fraud.

Butkovitz has known Green for years as a fellow Democrat in city political circles, and liked him.

"His demeanor and his reputation was that he was a straight arrow and an honest guy," Butkovitz said Friday.

Green's popularity grew as he cultivated an image of helping people fend off mortgage foreclosures. He held annual prayer breakfasts that were attended by top city politicians. On Sundays, Green would visit various churches to offer foreclosure assistance.

In 2008, he made national headlines by refusing to hold a court-ordered foreclosure auction. That led to creation of a court program, still in effect, to help struggling homeowners in Philadelphia avoid foreclosure.

Meanwhile, though, Green was taking "money that came out of the pockets of poor people who lost their homes," Butkovitz said.

John Dodds, head of the nonprofit Philadelphia Unemployment Project, called the foreclosure diversion program "very effective," and said Green deserved some credit.

However, Dodds said, the Sheriff's Office imposed onerous fees on homeowners that benefited businessman James R. Davis Jr., who was indicted Friday with Green.

For Butkovitz, concerns first emerged when his office attempted to conduct a routine audit and found Green's staff very uncooperative. "That constitutes red flags for potential fraud," the controller said.

Butkovitz decided to pursue an exhaustive forensic audit conducted by a former federal prosecutor.

Before the audit was completed, Green retired at the end of 2010 and moved to Florida. News of the federal investigation surfaced less than two months later.

bmoran@phillynews.com215-854-5983@RobertMoran215