Shawn Bullard, a former NFL linebacker and now North Philadelphia real-estate developer, describes himself as a “self-made multimillionaire” on Instagram, where he goes by the moniker “Zaddy.”
But when he purchased land for his latest and largest project – a four-story luxury apartment building near Temple University – the 37-year-old entrepreneur got a major assist from taxpayers, and Council President Darrell Clarke.
In 2016, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA) sold Bullard four adjacent lots on the corner of Cecil B. Moore Avenue and Willington Street for $92,500 each. Similar individual lots in the area were selling for two to three times that amount. A lot with an abandoned structure next door to Bullard’s properties sold for $251,500 in 2016.
Given the vacant lots sold to Bullard were city-owned, any break in price came at taxpayer expense.
Bullard, a former standout football player at Temple and aspiring rapper, was able to edge out at least seven other developers who had expressed interest in one or more of the properties because he had the support of Clarke.
While Clarke said he had no role in setting the price of the properties, his backing ensured that Bullard could buy the lots directly from the PRA without competitive bidding. Authority records show that the land was sold to Bullard “at the direction of the Councilperson."
A look at sales of comparable lots in the area suggests the lots could have gone for between $150,000 to $250,000 each through competitive bidding – or $600,000 to $1 million for all four. Even a city-ordered appraisal valued them higher than the price Bullard paid.
The appraisal put the value of the lots at $495,000 as of January 2015. The city had dropped the total price to $370,000 by the time the PRA’s board approved the sale in June 2016.
“The stark difference between the actual sales price and the appraised value is shocking and probably violated the policies that were in place at the time,” said John Carpenter, a former deputy executive director of the PRA now working as a consultant.
City officials have been unable to explain the price change, saying key records of the sale, including Clarke’s letter of support, have gone missing.
The Inquirer obtained a copy of Clarke’s signed letter of support for Bullard two years ago through a Right-to-Know request unrelated to this story. The original, however, has since disappeared from city records.
“There is no letter from the Councilperson in the file,” PRA spokesperson Paul Chrystie said.
Clarke spokesperson Jane Roh said her office, too, had no record of the letter.
Nor could the city locate the required documentation showing how the sale price fell below the appraisal, according to a city official familiar with the matter but not authorized to discuss it publicly.
In response to Inquirer questions about the Bullard transaction, Chrystie said last week that the PRA is “referring this matter to the Office of the Inspector General for further review so we can fully understand what occurred.” Inspector general Amy Kurland, whose office investigates fraud, corruption, and contract compliance, declined to comment Thursday.
Greg Heller, who as executive director of the PRA signed the deed to execute the sale, declined to comment, citing the ongoing review by the Inspector General’s Office.