A public housing tenant leader who runs a government-funded nonprofit under federal investigation also operates a political action committee that has failed to account for more than $100,000 since 2006.
Asia Coney, a longtime Philadelphia Housing Authority resident and activist, oversees the Equity PAC from a PHA building at 1401 W. York St. in North Philadelphia.
Since 2005, Equity PAC has received contributions from prominent politicians, including $37,000 from State Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Phila.) and $22,000 from City Controller Alan Butkovitz. The funding was used for "street money" to pay people to get out the vote on election days.
A former treasurer of the PAC, Vincent Morris, said in an interview that he had refused to sign annual expenditure forms for the city and state for three years because "I couldn't prove what happened with the money."
"I just know the information we were disseminating wasn't correct," Morris said, explaining that there often had been inadequate receipts for expenditures.
When he raised questions after being appointed treasurer of Equity PAC in 2007, he said, "there was rage and retaliation from Asia."
Morris, who had worked at the housing authority since 1999, said the pressure had become so great that he stepped down as Equity treasurer and resigned in April from PHA. Morris was assigned full time to work for the PHA-affiliated nonprofit Tenant Support Services Inc. (TSSI).
Coney did not reply to repeated requests for comment over a number of days.
A close ally of fired PHA executive director Carl R. Greene, Coney earns $102,000 running TSSI. The U.S. Attorney's Office has subpoenaed TSSI's records, including all e-mails from Coney, as part of a probe of Greene and his management of the housing authority.
She is also president of the Residents Advisory Board for the authority. Its York Street location is listed in state records as Equity PAC's office.
City and state election laws require political action committees to file detailed reports on income and expenditures. While Equity PAC registered with the state in 2005, it has filed only one report in Harrisburg, accounting for the $22,000 it received from Butkovitz in 2005.
"Asia had a reputation as being an organizer," Butkovitz said. "I think the reason she was a player was because she had a track record of getting out the vote," including working on mayoral campaigns for John F. Street, who is the PHA's current chairman, he said.
Equity PAC never registered or filed reports with the city, a spokesman for the Philadelphia Board of Elections said, despite its activity in city races.
However, candidates and other political action committees have disclosed what they gave to Equity PAC. From 2005 to 2009, that amounted to $132,500, most of it to pay for "get out the vote" operations, records show.
For Evans, Butkovitz, and about 10 other politicians running for office in Philadelphia, Coney was the go-to person for rallying the support of public housing tenants.
She recruited PHA residents to hand out materials on election days and get people to the polls. Most were paid $100, while organizers received as much as $1,000.
While she was helping candidates, Coney, as the president of the Residents Advisory Board, was also involved in decisions about whom the tenant groups would endorse.
In his failed bid for mayor in 2007, Evans received the backing of a coalition of public housing leaders, who held a rally for him at the Abbotsford housing project. He did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this article.
Coney's PAC received at least $42,000 from the Philadelphia Phuture Fund, a PAC closely tied to John "Johnny Doc" Dougherty, business manager of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. It doled out contributions for election day activities from 2005 through 2009, including $25,000 in May 2009.
Dougherty a former treasurer of the city' Democratic Party, said Coney motivated tenants to vote.
Dougherty said he had paid other organizations for election day work over the years. Some were not effective, he said, and "the day after the election I felt robbed and violated. She was not one of them."
Street's son Sharif gave Equity PAC $3,000 during his unsuccessful run for City Council in 2007. Sharif Street said Coney had included his name in materials that her group published.
"I wasn't so concerned about whether those folks would vote for me. I was concerned that they vote," he said.
Also in 2007, the West Philadelphia Democratic Club gave Equity $5,000. The club has ties to Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, a PHA board member.
A public housing resident for more than 30 years, Coney became a tenant activist in the 1980s when she lived in the now-demolished Tasker Homes in Southwest Philadelphia.
In 1994, after her 24-year-old son was shot to death, she started organizing antiviolence campaigns at the project, where she was president of the tenant council.
In 1997 Coney was a co-organizer of the Million Woman March, a rally of African American women on the Parkway that attracted hundreds of thousands and received worldwide publicity.
That visibility and influence led to her 1998 appointment to a two-person fact-finding team dispatched to Detroit to interview housing authority staffers about Greene's management style. He was facing a sexual-harassment complaint, and Coney initially opposed his hiring.
She changed her mind, and after Greene became executive director, Coney was named head of TSSI for an initial salary in 1999 of $38,447.
She oversees a staff of four from offices in a four-story building owned by PHA at 56th and Walnut Streets in West Philadelphia.
TSSI's one regular function is sponsoring the National Resident Empowerment Conference, an annual event held in Philadelphia for educating public housing tenants. The nonprofit also hosts a Christmas celebration, a Toys for Tots drive, a warm-coat drive, and a student book-bag distribution.
Coney, who also sits on the city's Redevelopment Authority, continues to live in public housing. PHA also provides her with an SUV.
In 2007, she created a for-profit business called AC & Associates L.L.C. Incorporation papers list as its location the address of the PHA-sponsored resident advisory board at 1401 W. York St.
Before elections, Coney holds meetings of tenant leaders and tells them how much "street money" will be paid to people who work on election days.
According to the single Equity filing with the state, the PAC hired 173 people in 2005 to help get out the vote.
Initially serving as treasurer was PHA employee Warren T. Knight, who also was assigned to work with Coney's TSSI.
Coney is listed as chairwoman of Equity PAC on registration documents filed with the Pennsylvania Department of State.
Knight said Equity PAC did not promote individual candidates, but rather focused on telling people to "get out of bed and go vote."
When contacted by The Inquirer, officials from PHA and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development all expressed concerns about Coney's operation.
Nichole Tillman, a PHA spokeswoman, said the PAC did not have permission to operate from a PHA site.
"It is not authorized by PHA, and it is not affiliated with PHA," Tillman said.
City law requires anyone receiving or making a contribution involving a city election to file with the city. Penalties for late filers are $2,000 for the first month and up to $1,000 a month after that. Shane Creamer, executive director of the Board of Ethics, which enforces city campaign laws, said the board usually gave late filers a chance to submit reports.
"We routinely provide non-filers time to file their reports, and we will pursue penalties if they don't comply with that deadline," said Creamer, who would not comment on Equity PAC. If found in violation, Equity would likely be subject to penalties in effect at that time, which could prove more or less costly depending on the Ethics Board interpretation.
HUD requires that all public housing agencies have resident advisory boards, but they are not supposed to be involved in politics.
"The resident office is for resident [activities]. If it is not being used for that purpose, this kind of election or personal business activity wouldn't be an appropriate use for that facility," HUD spokeswoman Donna White said.
Former workers for Equity PAC said Coney had built an election machine rivaling those of top ward leaders.
One of the soldiers in Coney's army was Dorphine Hayward, 76, who recently resigned as president of PHA's Hill Creek resident council.
"I've been doing Asia Coney for years," said Hayward, a 35th Ward Democratic committeewoman.
Over the last 13 years, Hayward said, she attended at least eight preelection meetings in which Coney told her and other tenant leaders how much they would be paid to turn out the vote. She said the meetings had always been held on PHA property and had always been attended by PHA board member Nellie Reynolds.
For the 2005 election season, Hayward got $100, while Reynolds received $1,050 and Coney earned $800 as the PAC's citywide coordinator, state records show.