The inspector general of the Delaware River Port Authority has hired an outside law firm to represent his office in a long-running dispute with DRPA officials over his independence.
The firm selected by inspector general Thomas W. Raftery employs the wife of the DRPA board chairman, David Simon. Simon has been an ally of Raftery in the internal DRPA battle.
So far, more than $58,000 in legal bills submitted to the DRPA by the law firm, Elliott Greenleaf of Blue Bell, on Raftery's behalf have gone unpaid.
John M. Elliott, the firm's chairman, said Monday that the bills had been "hijacked" by DRPA chief executive John Matheussen and diverted to the board's audit committee.
But Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, who chairs the DRPA's audit committee, said the committee required review of the bills as part of its consent to allow Raftery to hire outside counsel.
Elliott said that complaints about the hiring of his firm were "a phony issue" and that withholding payment was retaliation "by certain factions on the board and the employment hierarchy who are concerned about the investigations of the inspector general."
Raftery has been at the center of controversy almost since he was hired in 2012 as the DRPA's first inspector general, charged with rooting out fraud, waste, and abuse. The position was created at the request of U.S. Reps. Robert Brady (D., Pa.) and Robert E. Andrews (D., N.J.) as part of changes instituted in 2010 to try to make DRPA more transparent and accountable.
Raftery, a former FBI agent, has clashed with Matheussen over Raftery's insistence on reporting to the board, not the CEO, about his investigations. And he has angered some board members with what they describe as selective targeting of subjects for his investigations.
The latest dispute involves an ongoing debate over proposed procedures for running Raftery's office.
For more than a year, the DRPA audit committee has been wrestling with the proposed procedures, amid disagreements over the inspector general's autonomy and chain-of-command.
While the debate continues, several audits conducted by Raftery have been bottled up. In June, Simon publicly announced some of the findings of several unreleased Raftery audits, prompting complaints from Matheussen and DRPA Vice Chairman Jeffrey L. Nash, who said the reports should not be discussed publicly until staff responses were prepared.
Amid this infighting, Raftery asked in July for permission to hire legal counsel to represent his office. He was given approval by Simon, Nash, and the chair and vice chair of the audit committee, but was instructed to select a law firm from among the 31 that have been approved by the board to work for the DRPA.
Raftery selected Elliott Greenleaf from the list. One of the firm's shareholder lawyers is Deborah H. Simon, wife of the DRPA chairman.
Raftery said Monday that Deborah Simon would have no role in representing him and that he did not see a conflict in the relationship with the chairman.
"I had no discussions with the chairman about this, other than asking for the authority" to hire outside counsel, Raftery said. "It was my decision, and I'm happy with my representation.
Criticisms of the selection were politically motivated, he said.
In August, New Jersey board members Richard Sweeney and Al Frattali criticized Simon for not making public his wife's employment when the board approved adding Elliott Greenleaf to the roster of law firms in February. And they said Raftery should have alerted the board to what they described as a conflict of interest.
Sweeney and Frattali, both officials in the ironworkers' union, are New Jersey Democrats appointed by former Gov. Jon S. Corzine. Sweeney is the brother of Stephen Sweeney, president of the New Jersey Senate.
Simon, the executive vice president and chief legal officer for Jefferson Health System Inc., is a Pennsylvania Republican appointed by Gov. Corbett.
Matheussen said Monday that he had not approved the bills for Raferty's lawyers but had passed them on to the board's audit committee, which has been struggling for months to resolve procedural rules for Raftery's office.
Matheussen declined to comment on Raftery's hiring of Elliott Greenleaf.
Simon said Monday that his wife "has not worked on and will not work on any DRPA matters. Moreover, I understand that she has a specific agreement with the firm that she will not receive any financial benefit whatsoever related to the firm's representation of the DRPA."
"I understand that the Office of the Inspector General and outside counsel looked at the facts and any potential conflict issue at the time," Simon said, "and determined there was none."
Simon said his "priorities continue to be to push for financial discipline so we don't have to increase tolls or fares, fix the continuing problems with PATCO's operations, and advocate for an independent inspector general who has the authority to detect and deter wrongdoing."
A spokesman for DePasquale said Monday, "It is safe to say he would not have selected that firm out of all the firms on the list."
The auditor general will ask that the full 16-member DRPA board review the Elliott Greenleaf bill, the spokesman said.
Elliott said billings for representing Raftery for July through November totaled $58,753.50.
Elliott said other law firms, such as Archer & Greiner, the Haddonfield firm that represents the New Jersey board members, had been promptly paid for their work on the inspector general issues.