With U.S. government auditors demanding answers after years of questionable spending, the Philadelphia Housing Authority sent two officials to New York City last weekend to join the Pennsylvania Society's celebration.
A PHA spokeswoman said Thursday that the agency spent $2,515 on travel expenses for Shelley James, an assistant executive director, and Kafi Lindsay, who recently was promoted to senior counsel after serving since 2008 as an assistant to PHA Board Chairman John F. Street.
Both officials have been in the news since September, when the conduct and management practices of former Executive Director Carl R. Greene prompted both an audit by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and a criminal probe by the FBI.
Greene was fired in late September for failing to inform PHA's board about the settlement of three sexual-harassment complaints against him.
James was identified in an internal report by PHA's board as one of those who helped Greene hide those complaints, settled at a cost of $684,000, from the board. James wrote a letter firing an outside attorney who had insisted that the board be informed of one of the settlements, the report said.
Lindsay was the subject of an extraordinary surveillance effort by Greene, who had her followed and videotaped by a team of former FBI agents.
Their confidential report to Greene, which was never acted upon, concluded that her attendance at work was "sporadic" and that she may have done private legal work on PHA time. Both Lindsay and Street said she performed legitimate work for PHA and violated none of its personnel policies.
Neither Lindsay not James could be reached for comment Thursday.
Their trip to the annual Pennsylvania Society gathering was paid for with local funds, not federal housing subsidies, according to PHA spokeswoman Nichole Tillman. Federal funds had been used in past years to send officials to the event.
Nonetheless, a HUD spokesman, Jereon Brown, said federal auditors would look at expenses for the Pennsylvania Society going back for the last decade.
"We have not looked at the specifics of these expenditures. We will," Brown said.
HUD began its extensive forensic audit of PHA after finding evidence of misspending in an initial audit this year.
Tillman, the PHA spokeswoman, insisted the trip was "an appropriate allocation of funds."
"Philadelphia Housing Authority leadership attends the Pennsylvania Society every year because it gives PHA the opportunity to connect with countless officials and decision-makers at the state and national levels," she said in an e-mail. "It would be irresponsible for PHA to not take advantage of this chance to meet with these leaders."
Tillman said Lindsay and James did not attend the main Pennsylvania Society event, the 112th annual dinner in the Waldorf-Astoria's Grand Ballroom on Saturday.
Nor did the two PHA representatives "attend any other events while in New York," Tillman said.
This year's trip was less costly than in past years, when taxpayer funds were used to send as many as five PHA officials to the Pennsylvania Society. Greene was typically among those who attended.
"This year we used nonfederal funds as we review current polices," Tillman said.
Greene's attorney, Clifford E. Haines, said his client's attendance was a nonissue. "Carl Greene has, like hundreds of other business, government, and professional people, attended," Haines said. "His attendance is no more noteworthy than any other person, highly placed or not. He has both paid his own way and charged it as a business expense. He nor I can tell you what account that expense was charged to."
Haines, now representing Greene in two lawsuits against Street and the PHA board, has said that Greene's investigation of Lindsay showed that she was "rarely in attendance at PHA" and did private legal and real estate work on the side.
Both his lawsuits contend Greene was wrongly fired. They allege that Street has made accusations against Greene to deflect attention from his own failings as board chairman.
Haines has said Street resented his client because Greene authorized the investigation of Lindsay.
For his part, Street said he was unaware that Lindsay had gone to New York for the Pennsylvania Society.
"I do not know if Ms. Lindsay went to [the Pennsylvania] Society," Street said in an e-mail Thursday. "She does some small work for me but has much broader responsibilities."
Tillman said "PHA management authorized this trip" for James and Lindsay. She did not elaborate other than to say the decision was made before the Dec. 6 arrival of Michael Kelly, a New York City housing official serving as executive director on an interim basis at HUD's request.
Between the time of Greene's firing in September and Kelly's arrival, James was overseeing much of the agency's operations.
Tillman said Lindsay and James drove to New York and stayed at the InterContinental Hotel. The total hotel bill was $2,215 for the two.
About 1,575 people attended the Pennsylvania Society event this year. Among them were Gov. Rendell, Gov.-elect Tom Corbett, Mayor Nutter, U.S. Sens. Arlen Specter and Bob Casey, Sen.-elect Pat Toomey, and Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille.