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Philadelphia sheriff taps former defense lawyer to be undersheriff

Philadelphia Sheriff Rochelle Bilal has hired attorney Tariq El-Shabazz to be her undersheriff.

Tariq El-Shabazz
Tariq El-ShabazzRead more

Tariq El-Shabazz, a former high-profile Philadelphia criminal defense attorney, was hired earlier this year to be a legal adviser in Sheriff Rochelle Bilal’s office. This week, the sheriff sent an internal memo to her staff to “formally introduce” El-Shabazz as the new undersheriff.

That’s the second-in-command in an office with more than 400 employees and a budget of more than $26 million. Its primary responsibilities are to transport prisoners to court, maintain security in six court buildings, and to sell real estate foreclosed on for unpaid taxes or mortgages.

El-Shabazz is replacing former undersheriff Curtis Douglas, who retired earlier this month shortly after it came to light that the office had entered into an illegal six-year contract with Bid4Assets, a Maryland-based online property auction company.

“As undersheriff, he will aid in advising the sheriff and her deputies on the legal process, its policies, procedures, ramifications, and the criminal and civil justice systems and how they relate to the sheriff’s office operations,” Bilal wrote in the memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Inquirer.

“He will also supervise the Sheriff Sales to ensure that all the rules, regulations, and laws are followed,” added Bilal, referring to one of the office’s responsibilities that has been riddled with corruption in the past resulting in former Sheriff John Green being arrested, convicted, and sent to prison.

El-Shabazz, who in 2016 was hired to be first assistant district attorney by DA Seth Williams, did not respond to an email seeking comment. Teresa Lundy, a spokesperson for the office, also did not respond to emailed questions.

El-Shabazz brings more than 30 years of legal experience to his new job as well as a history of tax and financial problems.

In 2017, after announcing his run for DA, The Inquirer reported that he had $190,712 in federal, state, and city tax lien judgments on file against him in Common Pleas Court.

“I can tell you that there is a payment plan in place with the IRS tax liens,” he said at the time. “I can tell you we are working to settle all debt that I have.”

City records also showed that El-Shabazz’s former law firm, El-Shabazz & Harris, was sued six times from 2008 to 2016 for lack of payment of rent at his former offices in the Land Title Building on South Broad Street. The Sheriff’s Office headquarters is located in the same building.

A judge in May 2016 entered a judgment of $37,572 against the firm, while judgments were also entered against the firm for $30,328 in 2015, $27,978 in 2012, and $24,752 in 2009, the records showed.

Since taking over in January 2020, Bilal has been accused of wrongdoing by former employees who are now suing her.

Sommer Miller, Bilal’s former undersheriff before Douglas, and Anitra Paris, former human resources manager, each filed whistle-blower lawsuits in federal court in recent weeks, while Brett Mandel, former chief financial officer, filed a similar lawsuit last year in state court, alleging he was fired for questioning Bilal’s use of “off-budget” spending that circumvented the city budgeting process.