Along with providing housing for the city's poorest residents, the top staff at the Philadelphia Housing Authority were regularly solicited to fete their boss, Carl R. Greene.
As often as four times annually for the last several years, they were asked to pony up $150 each to join a select group of outside lawyers and consultants for dinners at high-end restaurants. There was an annual party to celebrate Greene's birthday, one to mark his anniversary with the agency, another to laud his accomplishments, and, at Christmas, a breakfast at the Four Seasons Hotel.
Those gatherings were small compared with the bash PHA put together for Greene's 10th anniversary on April 11, 2008. Hundreds of vendors, attorneys and "friend[s] of PHA" received letters asking them to donate $1,000 to $5,000 to Tenant Support Services Inc., a PHA nonprofit on which Greene has been a board member.
A spokesman for PHA, Kirk Dorn, said all the proceeds had gone to a scholarship fund for students living in public housing.
The more modest quarterly dinners were organized by Greene's top aides, according to Richard Zappile, PHA's public safety director, who was responsible for the invitations.
For Greene's 12th anniversary, Zappile sent an e-mail Jan. 29 to 24 senior staffers and 13 consultants and lawyers, setting a price of $150 for a dinner at the Prime Rib at 1701 Locust St., as well as a gift. They could pay in cash or checks made out to Zappile.
Greene most recently received a pair of theater tickets that cost about $100 each, said Zappile, adding that Greene also had gotten joke gifts, such as a fake million-dollar bill.
"You could go, or you don't have to," said Zappile, a former Philadelphia deputy police commissioner.
John Elliott, a lawyer representing a 29-year-old PHA employee with a sexual-harassment complaint against Greene, called the parties "improper" solicitations for money.
"When people would not come, Greene would tell them, 'You owe me one,' " said Elliott, adding that his client, Elizabeth Helm, had felt pressured to attend the dinners. "What is the financial accountability for the money? Where did it go?"
The atmosphere at PHA was one of fear and intimidation, Elliott said. He included a copy of the Jan. 29 dinner invitation in a sexual-harassment complaint that Helm filed in April with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
In letters to the five commissioners on the PHA board on April 21, Elliott said Greene had made unwanted sexual advances toward Helm during a discussion about a promotion. He said those letters had been mailed directly to PHA.
Former Mayor John F. Street, board chairman, said Thursday that he had not received the letter. Given a copy by The Inquirer, he said, "We will talk to the Commission on Human Relations. We will do an investigation."
Problems surrounding the 53-year-old Greene, head of PHA since 1998, have been mounting, and in a statement Wednesday he said he had taken a leave of absence from the housing agency to sort through personal matters. He earns more than $306,370 a year at the state-chartered, federally funded agency.
Last month, Wells Fargo Bank foreclosed on his $615,000 home in the upscale Naval Square development. In December, the IRS filed a $52,000 lien for unpaid non-PHA income. Greene paid his back taxes in March. In a statement released Wednesday, he said he had paid his mortgage through October.
The dinner parties for Greene pose a problem, said Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause, a government-watchdog nonprofit. Managers organizing or sending out such invitations to paid parties "were on a slippery slope," he said.
"Any time you have a situation where a person has authority over someone, or over terms of contracts . . . there can certainly appear to be an implied compulsory nature. They would feel an obligation to come."
One longtime vendor who attended several PHA tributes to Greene said, "Carl was never shy about asking vendors for contributions."
"You were expected to participate," said the vendor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of losing business. "I don't know if it was right or not."
James J. Eisenhower, a lawyer who has done work for PHA for 11 years, said he found nothing wrong with invitations to the quarterly dinner parties with senior staff. He has attended some of them.
"These things were not different," said Eisenhower, of the Schnader law firm, than "dinners for other clients."
He added, "I'm not aware of any extravagant gifts."
At Greene's 10th anniversary event, invitees were asked to donate $1,000 to $5,000 to Tenant Support Services Inc. (TSSI). The invitation, issued under Zappile's name on Greene's stationery, did not say what would be done with the money.
"Every dime raised went into the [scholarship] fund," PHA spokesman Dorn said in an e-mail.
The nonprofit reported assets of $1 million, according to its most recently available IRS filing in 2007. TSSI is run by Asia Coney, a longtime tenant activist, who was paid $101,000 that year by the nonprofit.