FEDERAL prosecutors yesterday indicted a former employee of the Philadelphia Housing Authority for allegedly extorting about $25,000 in kickbacks from two small contractors in exchange for their doing business with PHA.
Kerri Bizzell, who worked for PHA as a construction-contract coordinator from December 2007 until November 2008, faces 21 counts of extortion and one count of obstruction for attempting to persuade a PHA contractor to lie to a federal grand jury, according to the indictment.
Reached last night, Bizzell said she never extorted money from any contractors, and suspects that the feds indicted her to get her to roll over on her former bosses at PHA.
"If an indictment is to get information from me, then information they'll get," Bizzell said. "I'm not taking the fall for anyone."
Bizzell alleged that anything she did was at the direction of two PHA superiors: Daniel Quimby, former general manager of maintenance, and Shari Hamilton, former general manager of contracts and procurement.
"They told me to do things that maybe . . . wasn't on the up and up," Bizzell said.
Bizzell alleged that Quimby and Hamilton sometimes circumvented PHA's bidding process to award contracts to General Asphalt Paving Co., owned by the family of city GOP power broker Michael Meehan.
Bizzell claimed that some small contractors grew resentful because they believed that General Asphalt got special treatment.
"I had no control over that," Bizzell said. "If Dan Quimby or Shari Hamilton told me to do it, I did."
Quimby, who left PHA earlier this year and now works for General Asphalt, said that he did handle some contracts with General Asphalt but that they were all approved by PHA's contracting officer and a lawyer. Quimby added that he was not Bizzell's direct supervisor.
"I wouldn't have ordered her to do anything," Quimby said.
Quimby said he has not been questioned by any local, state or federal investigators in connection with his work at PHA.
"If I was implicated, I'm sure someone would have called me," Quimby said.
Hamilton, reached last night at her New Jersey home, declined to comment.
"I think it would be wholly inappropriate to talk to you," said Hamilton, who left PHA about two years ago and took a job with the Newark (N.J.) Housing Authority.
General Asphalt did not return a phone call left by the Daily News after business hours.
Bizzell and Quimby said PHA conducted an internal investigation into contracts awarded to General Asphalt in 2008. Quimby said he didn't know the details of the investigation or the outcome. Bizzell said she had been ordered to hand over her contract files on General Asphalt to PHA-hired attorneys.
Quimby, Hamilton and General Asphalt are not mentioned in the 13-page indictment filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office.
PHA fired Bizzell in November 2008 for "using profanity toward a contractor" and for failing to reveal on her PHA employment application that she had a criminal record.
Bizzell, who started working for PHA in January 2006, received three years' probation in 2000 for conspiracy to traffic in motor vehicles, records show.
She has been arrested at least eight times since 1987 on charges ranging from forgery to receiving stolen property. In 1997, she pleaded guilty to criminal conspiracy and forgery and was sentenced to five years' probation.
She claimed that she told PHA about her record before she was hired.
If convicted on the charges in the indictment, Bizzell faces a maximum sentence of 230 years in prison and a $5.5 million fine.
The indictment alleges that shortly after Bizzell was put in charge of small contracts in December 2007, she stopped posting requests for bids on PHA's website or contacting qualified bidders to alert them to opportunities. She then began to make "secret demands" of two small contractors, telling them that they would have to pay her to get the job, the indictment charges.
At times, Bizzell allegedly jacked up the price of the contractor's bid to include her secret demand for cash.
"If, for example, a contractor submitted a bid for $15,000 and Bizzell wanted $4,000 from the contractor for the award of the bid, Bizzell would change the contractor's bid documents to make it appear that the bid had been for $19,000 and would then approve that amount as the contract price," the indictment says.
"That's a lie," Bizzell said. "You think I just went on a whim and did my own thing? That doesn't even seem logical."
She added: "Believe me, anything I did had to be signed off on by Shari Hamilton. She resigned when the whole thing with General Asphalt went down."
From December 2007 through May 2008, a contractor identified in the indictment only as "T.B." consented to pay Bizzell about $16,000 to obtain a series of contracts with PHA, the indictment alleges.
Bizzell, 41, described that contractor, a PHA tenant who owned a painting business, as being "disgruntled" over bids awarded to General Asphalt.
The indictment also claims that Bizzell extorted $9,083.50 from a contractor identified in the indictment as "H.Y."
And in February 2009, when H.Y. called Bizzell to tell her that he'd been subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury, Bizzell reminded him that she had given him some "wood" and told him not to tell the grand jury about the "sandwiches" that he gave her from time to time, the indictment states. It also alleges that "sandwiches" was code for payments.
She admitted she gave H.Y. some free lumber, but claimed it was left over from a remolding job on her own home.
She also said she and H.Y. sometimes shared "sandwiches" and "sodas" at work. She said she told H.Y. to "tell the truth" to the grand jury.
Yesterday's indictment comes two days after the Daily News reported that the FBI is investigating the alleged theft of millions of dollars worth of building materials, including lumber and hardwood flooring, paid for by PHA and purchased from Home Depot.
Federal investigators are examining whether the materials were used in homes of PHA employees or those connected to them.
Again and again, the same three PHA workers were listed on many of the Home Depot invoices as the person who authorized the purchase: Richard A. Perri, a longtime material coordinator; and two PHA-hired carpenters, Michael Kinkade and Nicholas Cionci.
Federal authorities are trying to determine whether the three ordered the materials or if other people used their names.
Quimby said he directly supervised Perri and Kinkade, but not Cionci, and that Perri would send invoices for Home Depot to the finance department.
Quimby refuted insinuations from PHA workers that he used Home Depot materials charged to PHA on his homes in Philadelphia and the Poconos. "Everything can be accounted for," Quimby said. "Everything I bought, I bought from Lowe's and I have the receipts."