Carl Greene got a brand-new bag(s) - and taxpayers carried the load

Posted: January 07, 2011

NO DOUBT, Carl R. Greene had a lot of baggage.

Specifically, 20 leather-trimmed Tumi carry-on duffel - at $796 apiece - compliments of taxpayers.

In September 2009, Greene, then-executive director of the Philadelphia Housing Authority, bought the luxury bags for $15,920 from Nordstrom, according to a purchase order obtained yesterday by the Daily News.

Greene kept one for himself and gave the rest to high-ranking PHA executives.

Greene got the bags at a discount. They normally retail for $995 apiece.

But that didn't impress U.S. Sen. Charles E. Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, who expressed outrage yesterday over the purchase.

"Instead of carrying the interests of the taxpayers and those in need of assistance, housing authorities are carrying expensive luggage," Grassley said in a statement. "This purchase is a terrible example of abuse by the former executive director."

Grassley's committee has been scrutinizing spending by public-housing agencies.

Greene's attorney, Clifford Haines, did not return two calls from the Daily News.

PHA's Board of Commissioners fired Greene in September after learning that he had secretly settled three sexual-harassment complaints against him. Greene denied the allegations.

PHA spokeswoman Nichole Tillman declined to answer questions about the luggage or to say who on staff got the chichi bags.

"PHA is under new leadership," Tillman said. "PHA is not making these types of expenditures anymore."

Three federal agencies, including the FBI, are investigating the manner in which PHA spent tax dollars under Greene.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Inspector General, is conducting two audits of PHA. One focuses on repairs to PHA-owned homes scattered around the city, the other on the agency's finances, including contracts and purchases.

Michael Zerega, spokesman with HUD's Office of Inspector General, said the audits "are pretty far along." He declined to comment on the luggage.

HUD plans to conduct its own audit, though the agency has yet to hire a firm.

"The audit will be sweeping and far-reaching," HUD spokeswoman Donna White said yesterday.

Grassley's staffers began to scrutinize PHA spending as part of a national review of economic-stimulus spending. Grassley zeroed in on Philadelphia after multiple allegations - including claims that Greene pressured staffers to buy him lavish gifts - surfaced last summer. Grassley called on HUD to more closely monitor housing agencies.

Grassley said yesterday that HUD should be held "accountable for such outrageous spending" by Greene.

"The department's credibility is at stake," Grassley said.

Tumi - the namesake of a Peruvian god - markets itself as "the brand of choice for the world's most discerning and demanding consumers."

Tumi describes the bag - Greene's bag of choice - as its Townhouse Moorgate model, a wheeled, carry-on duffel of "simple elegance and packing ease" and made from "exclusive and ultra-durable ballistic nylon with leather trim" with "interior and exterior pockets, a carry handle with leather wrap and a protective cover for use when storing."

Jamilah Boston, Greene's former administrative officer, confirmed that she had purchased the bags for senior staffers at Greene's direction.

"I was told to do it [by Greene]," Boston said. "I was just following orders."

Among the staffers who got the bags, according to sources, were Dianne Rosenthal, assistant executive director of finance; Carolyn Carter, assistant executive director of operations; Shelley James, chief of staff; Richard Zappile, chief of PHA police; and Fred Pasour, general counsel.

Rosenthal, Carter, James, Zappile and Pasour did not immediately respond to an e-mail from the Daily News.

Jenelle Scott, who worked as one of Greene's administrative assistants for seven years, said that Greene routinely had his staff order expensive duffel bags, backpacks, briefcases and portfolios with organizers and ring binders.

"He must have ordered about 50 to 60 Tumi bags over a period of a couple of years," Scott said. "He gave them to his top staff. He'd give them out as gifts."

Scott, who left PHA last April, said: "He really liked those bags. I always wondered why PHA was able to spend taxpayers' money on luxury items when it had never been done before. It didn't happen like that until Carl Greene got there. . . . I didn't see how he could get away with it."

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