The Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission is investigating former Mayor John F. Street's role in awarding millions of dollars of Philadelphia Housing Authority legal work to his son's former law firm, according to documents and interviews.

Street became chairman of the PHA board in 2004 and voted on at least five occasions to give PHA contracts to Wolf Block Schorr & Solis-Cohen L.L.P., records show. His son, Sharif, billed PHA more than $700,000 while working as an attorney assigned to the PHA account at the now-defunct firm.

The commission is responsible for overseeing the actions of public officials. If it finds that a violation of law has occurred, it can assess fines, order restitution, and also refer the matter for criminal prosecution.

Sherry A. Swirsky, PHA's deputy general counsel, said Thursday that the ethics commission subpoenaed PHA records and e-mails, and has interviewed one housing authority employee who kept board minutes.

"Whatever they have asked me for I'm in the process of getting them," said Swirsky, who said the commission was seeking documents about Sharif Street's work. "There's no debate with them, no dispute. They will get whatever they are seeking."

Street headed the board until last March, when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development pressured all five commissioners to resign and took control of the authority. HUD funds most of PHA's budget.

Sharif Street, who now works with another Philadelphia law firm, did not respond to requests for comment.

John F. Street, Philadelphia's mayor from January 2000 until January 2008, has denied wrongdoing.

"Hopefully, Wolf Block or PHA will make all the relevant information available so we can move on," Street said in an e-mail Thursday.

He repeated a previous statement he issued earlier this year when HUD's Inspector General called his votes for Wolf Block business a conflict of interest.

"I was assured then and am confident I conducted myself well within ethical rules governing PHA contracting practices as defined by the appropriate federal regulations."

"The resolutions I voted on did NOT require Wolf Block [to] get law business," he wrote.

He said the board only "prequalified" the law firms and PHA's executive director selected the firms that actually would be used by PHA.

The inspector general report in March said Street violated both federal and state regulations.

In particular, the report quoted a 2004 opinion by PHA's former general counsel that Pennsylvania state regulations "would prohibit Mr. Street from voting on any issue relating to Wolf Block's contracts with PHA."

The HUD inspector general's office referred the March audit to its criminal division, according to records and interviews. The status of that investigation could not be immediately determined.

The Ethics Commission requested documents from PHA on Sept. 13, state records show.

But the housing authority did not immediately turn over the information, prompting the commission to file an appeal with the state's Office of Open Records and making the matter public.

The commission's request was for all Wolf Block legal billings from December 2004 and December 2009 for Sharif Street work.

Sharif Street left Wolf Block in late 2008. He tried to resume work for PHA through another law firm under contract with there authority.

But this time around, the move prompted questions inside PHA about whether his legal work for the authority was a conflict of interest, PHA documents show.

In December 2008, former PHA Executive Director Carl R. Greene directed James Eisenhower, an outside attorney who worked closely with Greene, to discuss the younger Street's work with Alan Kessler, a Wolf Block partner at the time.

Eisenhower was supposed to determine the propriety of Sharif Street providing legal services to PHA, given his father's post as PHA chairman.

Sharif Street said in an earlier interview that he had reported directly to Kessler on all his PHA work with Wolf Block.

In a statement explaining his work on the issue, Eisenhower later told HUD that he determined Sharif Street should not work for PHA.

"We concluded that it would not be appropriate," Eisenhower wrote in a July 1, 2011 letter to HUD.

PHA told HUD in a follow-up letter that "no work was subsequently assigned to Sharif Street by PHA."

Kessler said Thursday, "While I took an interest in Sharif Street's career, he did not report to me on regular matters for PHA ... As far as I knew, Sharif received his assignments directly from and reported directly to PHA senior management on those assignments - and not to me."

The ethics commission is a state agency that can work independently or in concert with both state and federal prosecutors. Acting on its own, it can impose fines or order restitution.

In one case in 2006, the commission ordered a state development officer, Thomas McGraw, to pay $402,6000 in restitution and fines after he was determined to have taken kickbacks from contractors.

The commission referred that case to federal prosecutors, who secured a conviction on bribery charges that sent McGraw to prison.