PHA chief now accused of sexual harassment

Carl R. Greene, PHA director.
Carl R. Greene, PHA director.
Posted: August 19, 2010

On top of financial and tax woes, Philadelphia Housing Authority Executive Director Carl R. Greene now faces accusations of sexual harassment and improperly soliciting payments from employees, vendors, and law firms.

In a letter obtained by The Inquirer, John M. Elliott, an attorney for a 29-year-old employee of the authority (PHA), accuses Greene of "serial predatory sexual misconduct."

Elliott alleges that Greene promised a promotion to Elizabeth Helm, an interior designer and planner at PHA, if she submitted to his sexual advances.

In an interview Wednesday, he charged the five-member PHA board with turning a blind eye to Greene's abusive behavior.

Elliott said Greene was improperly using his position to solicit cash and personal gifts from PHA's employees, vendors, and law firms. PHA, Elliott said, hosts four parties a year in honor of Greene and asks for cash or checks for the executive director.

Kirk Dorn, a PHA spokesman, called the letter "incendiary." "It's an allegation made by one person," Dorn said. "PHA denies the allegations in the letter and is defending against them."

Richard A. Zappile, the PHA chief of police, said that he organizes four parties a year for top managers and attorneys who do contract work for the agency, and that participants, including Greene, pay their own way.

"They are privately run," Zappile said, "and the money goes toward the dinner."

Elliott outlined his allegations against Greene and PHA's board in a four-page letter dated April 21 that was sent to 12 people, including Gov. Rendell, former Mayor John F. Street, and Mayor Nutter. Rendell was chairman of PHA at the time of Greene's hiring. Street is the current chairman.

The letter only came to light in the wake of last week's disclosure of Greene's financial problems. Greene's personal bank, Wells Fargo, foreclosed in July on his mortgage on a $615,000 house, while the IRS placed a $52,000 lien on the house in December for unpaid taxes on non-PHA income.

Charges of sexual misconduct have shadowed Greene since his arrival in Philadelphia in 1998 from the Detroit Housing Commission.

In his former job, a housing-agency auditor accused Greene of kissing, touching, and fondling her, and promising her a promotion if she "submitted to his demands." Rendell, who as mayor at the time headed PHA, hired Greene and gave him a contract that ensured his job even if he lost the Michigan case. The case brought by Gertrude Faye Johnson was settled out of court on the eve of a trial.

At PHA, at least one other case of sexual harassment has been made against Greene. Melissa Shingles, a former senior management specialist at PHA, filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission in 2004. The case was closed in 2006 after a settlement was reached between the sides. Shingles declined to comment Wednesday.

Elliott, a prominent lawyer based in Blue Bell, described Rendell, who recruited Greene for the PHA job in 1998, as Greene's "sponsor." Elliott said no one who received the letter had replied directly to him. The Human Relations Commission, however, reached out to Elliott and said the matter had been referred to the agency by Rendell. Helm filed a complaint April 30, and an investigation opened May 13.

A spokesman for Rendell, Gary Tuma, said the governor did not recall the letter from Elliott. But regardless, Rendell has no authority over the PHA. "It's not a gubernatorial matter," Tuma said.

Greene has not shown up for work the last three days. In a statement Wednesday, PHA disclosed that Greene, who is paid more than $300,000 a year, was on a leave of absence for several weeks "to get his personal affairs in order."

PHA said Greene had paid his mortgage through October. The IRS lien, meanwhile, was settled in March.

A PHA spokeswoman, Nichole Tillman, acknowledged the complaint from Helm. She added in a written reply, "The complainant has not yet had to prove her allegations, nor has PHA or Mr. Greene been afforded an opportunity to present a defense."

But at the first mediation session on the matter before the Human Rights Commission, on Aug. 2 in Philadelphia, no one from PHA showed up, Elliott said.

"Right now, it's just the sound of silence," the lawyer said in an interview. "There's a pattern of sweeping his misconduct under the proverbial carpet, which only emboldens a predator like Greene."

Street said Greene had committed to meeting with the PHA board and reporters to answer questions about the current controversies.

A date has not yet been set, but both could occur by Friday.

"He made a commitment . . . that he will answer questions," Street said.

The PHA board chairman said he did not recall receiving the letter from Helm's attorney. Street said he wanted to look at the letter and see whether reading it jogged his memory.

"I don't want to sit here and say I didn't see it," he said. But he said that during Greene's 13 years, he has not heard complaints about his conduct with female employees.

"As far as I know, Carl was conducting himself in an appropriate way," Street said. "These recent allegations are a bit of a surprise to me."

When he spoke to Greene on Wednesday, the former mayor said, he did not quiz him on the details of the controversies that have arisen in the last week.

Street said he still had confidence in Greene. On his missed mortgage payments, Street added, "he said that he wasn't paying attention, he was knee-deep in the business of the Housing Authority, and just was kind of throwing that stuff in a box."

Street said he did not recall the board's ever approving any payments to settle sexual-harassment claims.

He also said he had never heard complaints that Greene received any improper payments.

"Thirteen years he's been here, and I think he has done a pretty good job. I don't know if you can just wipe it all with a few lawsuits or letters," Street said.

In the letter outlining Helm's sexual-harassment complaint, Elliott wrote that Greene "insisted" that Helm meet him after work April 12 at the bar of the Prime Rib Restaurant at 1701 Locust St. to discuss PHA-related matters.

In the letter, he called her the "most recent victim" of Greene's pattern of sexual harassment.

Helm, who had worked at PHA for about a year, was manager of interior planning and design. That night, Greene praised her work and said he was processing her promotion paperwork.

He then made advances including "touching, grabbing, and groping her," the letter said. Despite her insistence that he stop, Greene "continued to forcibly and physically pursue inappropriate and unwanted contact of an intimate nature."

The letter stated that Greene admitted to Helm that his contact was unwelcome, stating as he grabbed her, "I know that you don't want to kiss me."

Dorn said Helm was on an unpaid leave from PHA.

The other PHA commissioners were not available for comment.

Debra L. Brady, the head of Philadelphia Writ Services and the wife of U.S. Rep. Bob Brady (D., Pa.), did not respond to requests for comment left at her business and through her husband's press office.

Patrick J. Eiding, president of the Philadelphia Council, AFL-CIO, is on vacation and not responding to messages, his office said.

Earlier this week, Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell said she was behind Greene "1,000 percent," but was in a meeting when a reporter requested an interview.

Tenant representative Nellie Reynolds did not respond to two telephone messages.


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

Inquirer staff writer Jeff Shields contributed to this article.

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