A former executive of the South Philadelphia community development and charter school organization founded by Philadelphia record-industry legend Kenny Gamble pleaded not guilty in federal court Thursday to charges that he ripped off the company and bribed a city councilmember.
Shahied Dawan, 68, the former chief financial officer of the nonprofit Universal Companies, is one of two ex-executives of the firm charged with bribery for allegedly paying nearly $67,000 in 2013 and 2014 to education consultant Dawn Chavous, the wife of Philadelphia Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson.
After entering his plea before U.S. Magistrate Judge Richard Lloret, Dawan was released without having to post bail and left the courtroom without commenting. His attorney, Thomas O. Fitzpatrick, said the charges against Dawan are “bombastic” and the details of the alleged conspiracy do not apply to him.
“Mr. Dawan doesn’t have anything to hide and he doesn’t have anything to hide from,” Fitzpatrick said. “He has done nothing wrong. He is not guilty.”
The arraignment for Abdur Rahim Islam, 62, the former CEO of Universal, was moved to Friday. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mark Dubnoff and Eric Gibson told the judge they were prepared to argue that Islam should be jailed. But Lloret ruled that Islam would remain free until the hearing and ordered both defendants to turn over their passports before leaving the Market Street courthouse.
Islam and his attorney, David M. Laigaie, declined to comment after Thursday’s hearing.
Federal prosecutors contend that the payments made by the defendants to Johnson’s wife prompted the councilmember, a three-term Democrat, to intervene on the nonprofit’s behalf by protecting some of its properties from seizure, and introducing and shepherding the passing of legislation that increased the value of one property that the nonprofit sold in 2014 for 15 times what it had paid in 2000.
In a 43-page indictment, prosecutors on Wednesday charged Johnson and Chavous with accepting bribes from Islam and Dawan. Johnson, 46, and Chavous, 40, are scheduled to make their first court appearances Friday.
Islam and Dawan are charged with racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud, and tax evasion stemming from more than $500,000 they allegedly embezzled from Universal over two years to enrich themselves and to fund a separate bribery scheme in Milwaukee, where Universal operated two charter campuses.
Gamble, 76, who rose to fame in the 1970s with songwriting partner Leon Huff as the owners of Philadelphia International Records, founded Universal in 1993 with the goal of redeveloping South Philadelphia, where he was born and raised. He has not been charged, and federal prosecutors said the crimes committed by Islam and Dawan were committed behind his back.
“As alleged in the indictment, Universal Companies, including its real estate and education arms, constituted a [racketeering] enterprise, hijacked by the defendants Islam and Dawan to engage in a pattern of criminal activity that spanned two states and several years,” First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams said Wednesday.
Fitzpatrick said Dawan’s record and reputation during his time at Universal and elsewhere were unblemished. “My client has a long history of service to the community, both through his work with Universal and with organizations prior to Universal,” he said. “We look forward to having tons of character support and testimony on his behalf.”