Parking lot operator says Union, Chester in cahoots

Posted: June 20, 2014

A Bala Cynwyd parking lot operator claims in a federal racketeering lawsuit that officials in Chester City conspired with the owners of the Philadelphia Union and PPL Park to stop the company from operating its lots during the Union's Major League Soccer games and other events.

For four games in 2013, the suit claims, Police Commissioner Joseph Bail ordered three ranking officers to close the lots owned by T.I.C.B. Partners by blocking streets with city vehicles or police tape. According to the lawsuit, Bail was also put on the payroll of the company that manages the park and paid $400 for every event he attended there, though it did not specify his duties.

The lawsuit, filed this week, is the latest legal salvo between Chester officials and the company, which bought land near the park three years ago and said it obtained the proper permits to use it for parking.

"This was all about competition for parking dollars," said Kathryn Luce Labrum, attorney for T.I.B.C.

Besides Bail, the suit names as defendants Mayor John Linder; Keystone Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Union soccer team and PPL Park; its general manager, Michael Scanlon; Global Spectrum, which manages PPL Park; and its vice president and chief financial officer, David Debusschere.

Linder's office referred calls for comment to the city solicitor's office. Efforts to reach the solicitor were unsuccessful. Calls to Bail were not returned.

Philadelphia Union CEO and operating partner Nick Sakiewicz said in a statement that the suit was "without merit" and "frivolous."

"We have complied 100 percent with every law and building code in constructing PPL Park and the adjacent approved parking lots that we control," said Sakiewicz.

According to the lawsuit, T.I.C.B. was granted a zoning variance in March 2012 to operate the parking lots.

A month later - and 48 hours before a Union match - Linder and Bail allegedly had the city issue the lot operator a cease-and-desist order, claiming police found there was "significant danger to the public" because there were no sidewalks.

The company appealed and was able to open its lots.

A second violation was issued against T.I.C.B. in June 2012, but the company prevailed, the suit contends.

After T.I.C.B. filed a lawsuit in Delaware County Court that year to challenge the orders, the court ruled that the city did not have any viable public safety issues with the lot.

When three Chester police officers questioned the actions taken against T.I.C.B., they were demoted and Bail and Linder filled their vacant offices with three other officers who were "immediately elevated in rank and placed on the payroll of Defendant Global Spectrum Inc. by defendant Michael Scanlon," the lawsuit states.

The suit claims Bail was also on the payroll of Global Spectrum from March 2012 to spring 2014. He was paid $400 for each event he worked at the stadium, income the company claims he failed to report as required on financial disclosure statements. The suit does not indicate how many events he attended.

Rob Caruso, executive director of the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission, said the law does not prevent employees from having outside employment, but if they use the trappings of their public position, there is potential for conflict of interest.

Police chiefs are covered by the ethics act, but not the rank and file, Caruso said. Outside income that exceeds $1,300 a year must be disclosed on the financial interest forms. "A failure to disclose all sources of income could potentially be a fairly serious violation of the ethics act," Caruso said.

Labrum said T.I.B.C took a chance when it purchased the 20 lots near the stadium, which had been used to park trash trucks. There was substantial cleanup involved. She also said the owners of the stadium had a chance to purchase the properties but declined.

During one match, she said, police came out at halftime and put up yellow crime scene tape at the exits of one T.I.C.B. lot. When the game ended, they did not let drivers exit until the last of the cars in the PPL lots had left, Labrum said.

T.I.C.B. is asking for about $300,000 in damages and then punitive damages, according to the lawsuit.


mschaefer@phillynews.com

610-313-8111

@MariSchaefer

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