High-powered testimony in ex-PHA chief’s lawsuit

Posted: January 29, 2013

At one time, they were among the most influential public officials in the city:

Two-term governor and former Mayor Ed Rendell.

Two-term Mayor John F. Street.

And the nearly 13-year chief of the Philadelphia Housing Authority, Carl R. Greene.

For the first time in more than two years, they faced one another Tuesday in the same room - the 14th-floor courtroom of U.S. District Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter - as witnesses and lawyers began detailing the interplay among them in the days leading to Greene's termination, disappearance, and hospitalization.

Greene was fired as PHA's executive director in September 2010 after the authority's board, chaired by Street, learned of multiple sexual-harassment complaints against him.

In his breach-of-contract lawsuit, Greene asserts that the board had no cause to let him go and owes him $743,000 in lost pay plus damages. The civil trial is expected to last three weeks.

As the first witness, Rendell testified that in August 2010, when he, then the governor, learned of Greene's mental distress after media reports about his financial problems, he directly made arrangements for him to get medical help.

Rendell called a cousin who was a psychiatrist in charge of the Retreat at Sheppard Pratt, a mental-health residential treatment center in Towson, Md., that caters to celebrities and politicians.

"I arranged for him to go to Sheppard Pratt," Rendell said.

After briefly testifying, Rendell shook Greene's hand as he sat impassively next to his attorneys.

But when it came to Street, who sat in the third row and left after opening arguments, Greene never made eye contact.

Greene's attorney, Clifford Haines, said in opening arguments that PHA had no evidence that Greene mismanaged the authority or failed in his mission to improve public housing.

Instead, he said, "Carl Greene was fired because he embarrassed John Street."

The firing of Greene, Haines said, boiled down to politics. He said the barrage of negative news about Greene caused problems for Street.

Haines said Mayor Nutter, whom he called Street's "nemesis," criticized the PHA board for its lack of oversight, which reflected negatively on Street.

"John Street needed a cover," Haines said, "and the cover was to excoriate Carl Greene and so elevate his misconduct that no one would pay attention to John Street's failures and lies."

Steven J. Engelmyer, PHA's attorney, countered that the only question before the court was whether Greene engaged in "willful, reckless, and intentional misconduct that caused material harm to PHA."

Since 2004, PHA ended up settling four sexual-harassment complaints against Greene for more than $1 million. Engelmyer said insurance money was used as "a front to hide things from the board."

"No one was ignoring Mr. Greene's sexual-harassment activity," Engelmyer said, "because no one knew about it."

The second witness, James Eisenhower, an outside attorney for PHA with Schnader Harrison, provided a window into the chaos and confusion at PHA after Greene disappeared from sight Aug. 13, 2010.

Media reported that Greene's bank foreclosed on his luxury condo at the Naval Square development.

Eisenhower, who worked for PHA for more than 10 years and considered Greene a friend, said he was bombarded with calls from PHA staff about Greene, who was not answering calls or e-mails.

He said he was concerned for Greene's safety. "Obviously, there was a crisis going on here. and I didn't want to wake up the next morning and read a banner headline that Mr. Greene had harmed himself," Eisenhower said.

On Aug. 17, Eisenhower said, senior staff at PHA selected him to check on Greene. He went to his home. "I knocked on the door. I yelled through the door. Everything was dark," he said.

Eisenhower said that as he returned to his car to leave, his cellphone rang and a woman said Greene wanted to talk to him but not at his home. Eisenhower suggested that they meet at his apartment house, which had a conference room.

When Greene showed up later that day, Eisenhower said, he was disheveled, with clothing hanging off his large frame, no tie, and the stubble of a beard.

"He said he was extremely depressed and suicidal," Eisenhower said. "Things had gotten out of control in his personal life and he couldn't handle things."

Over the next few days, Eisenhower said, he relayed messages between Greene and Street.

He said Street told him: "All Carl needs is a beach and a book. Tell him to go down the Shore for a couple of days and he'll be fine."

Street wanted Greene to meet with the board, then address the allegations of harassment at a news conference. Greene would do neither and wanted to speak to reporters one-on-one.

Eisenhower said that after he delivered that message to Street, the PHA chairman replied: "He's disrespecting me and he's going to pay a heavy price."

Eisenhower said he and John Estey, another PHA outside attorney and former chief of staff for Rendell, called the governor to explain "the situation."

According to Eisenhower, Rendell told him, "Guys, I've got to pull the plug on Carl, and you need to tell him that I can't continue to support him given these sexual allegations."

After Rendell found a place for him to get treatment, Eisenhower and Estey drove him to Sheppard Pratt, where he was admitted under the pseudonym Lawrence Brown.


Contact Jennifer Lin

at 215-854-5659 or jlin@phillynews.com, or on Twitter @j_linq.

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