As head of the Philadelphia Housing Authority, Carl R. Greene presided over a workplace of fear.

For women, his subordinates say, there could be ogling, groping, and pressure for sex.

For men and women alike, there were insults and humiliation.

"You're stupid. You're lazy. I can't believe your parents wasted college education on you," Greene yelled at one young aide, she recalled. "I can't believe you're so incompetent."

She left his sixth-floor office in tears, mascara streaming down her cheeks.

Greene called out after her, telling his assistant: "Fix her up. Get her some makeup. I don't want her to leave the office looking like that."

That was the world that Greene created within PHA. While menacing public housing towers were imploded across Philadelphia, careers were ruined inside PHA's headquarters on 23d Street in Center City.

"I've never worked somewhere where I've seen so many professionals crying," said one former PHA executive.

Greene, once hailed as one of the nation's top public housing directors, was suspended last week amid disclosures that PHA had agreed to pay at least $900,000 to settle four sexual-harassment complaints filed against him.

The agency's five board members are investigating whether Greene hid the payouts from them. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has ordered an immediate audit of PHA operations, and the U.S. Attorney's Office, working with the FBI and the HUD inspector general, has launched a criminal probe.

Clifford E. Haines, Greene's attorney, said Friday that he could not respond to specific allegations leveled against Greene.

Haines said he wasn't familiar with details of Greene's dealings with his employees and would not disturb him now that he is in seclusion out of state, undergoing medical treatment.

"I don't think the criticisms about his management style are anything new," Haines said. "I think that Carl has acknowledged that he's not the easiest hands-on manager to deal with."

He added: "I find it somewhat troubling that you all are feasting on this. There's a certain amount of cruelty in kicking the guy."

Despite recent events, Haines said, "everyone has said that PHA under the leadership of Carl Greene has done miraculously."

In an interview with The Inquirer before he dropped out of sight, Greene repeatedly emphasized that he had not admitted any wrongdoing in the settlements of lawsuits accusing him of sexual harassment.

"A lot of women who are working at PHA think it's an honorable and decent place," he added.

As PHA's executive director, Greene ran a workplace out of a Dilbert comic strip, but one with all the humor drained out.

Along with Greene's penchant for retreats, inspirational T-shirts, "team-building" bowling parties, and barbecues, his many critics say, there were sexual harassment, shouted insults, sudden pay cuts as punishment, a cult of personality around the Great Leader - and even a gulag of sorts for those who fell out of favor.

When managers crossed Greene, they could face exile - and suddenly find themselves working out of PHA facilities in the hinterlands, at a maintenance office at 15th and Lehigh, at the Abbotsford development in East Falls, or at PHA's fleet-management facility in Grays Ferry.

At one manager's new posting, a North Philadelphia housing project, she and other staffers had to leave each day at 5 p.m. - because that was quitting time for the project's security officers. On her first day, she watched an ambulance drive off with a female resident who had been beaten with a baseball bat in a fight over a drug debt.

Adding insult to injury, Greene's underlings were repeatedly dunned for cash to pay for parties to fete their boss - parties at which he received gifts such as a CD player or theater tickets.

For some aides, it was beyond galling. "Here's a man who's tormenting you and you have to spend your money on him," said one ex-staffer. "It's so twisted."

Virtually without exception, Greene's subordinates described him as frighteningly mercurial, a man who could shift in an instant from pleasant banter to furious tirades.

Even today, with Greene under suspension and in seclusion, nearly all current and former PHA officials interviewed remained so fearful that they would speak only if promised anonymity.

Tall and barrel-chested, Greene, now 53, was physically intimidating. When angry, he would pound his desk. Veins on his neck would pop out. Once, recalled former aide Jenelle Scott, "he screamed so loud that the spit from his mouth fell on my lip."

Even as he lashed out at luckless subordinates, Greene flattered and coddled the powerful and those who nominally oversaw him, naming housing projects after them, putting their relatives in cushy PHA jobs, and, audits found, ignoring agency rules to hike their pay.

He spent agency money lavishly to burnish his image and steered million of dollars in legal work to politically powerful law firms.

Along with his drive, his monomaniacal focus, and his mastery of public housing, Greene produced results. He changed the skyline in South Philadelphia, North Philadelphia, East Falls, and Grays Ferry.

This all bought him support from powerful political allies.

While former Mayor John F. Street, the PHA board chairman, has grown sharply critical of Greene in recent days, he said in an interview that in years past, the board had viewed the complaints about Greene in the context of his transformation of the agency.

"People criticize him because they say the highway is littered with Carl Greene roadkill, but every time I turn around, people are clapping and cheering and moving into new houses," Street said.

To be sure, Street knew all about Greene's bruising management style. He can tell Greene stories with the best of them.

Once, he said, a PHA worker "came to a meeting a second time without having his assignment completed, and when he went back to the office, he didn't have an office. His desk was in the hallway."

What's more, Street said, "his salary was reduced by $20,000."

Greene's temper was so well-known that new hires would be asked, "Have you been Greene'd yet?"

On a retreat once, Greene ordered a middle-aged agency veteran to get up and leave the room when his answers did not satisfy the boss. Greene instructed him to think about why his responses had fallen short.

"You felt sick having to watch this," someone who was there recalled, "because you knew the next time it would be you."

What was confusing and disturbing was the speed with which Greene could switch personalities.

"He could be charming. You could be impressed by the intensity and the passion and the intelligence that he had for the public housing mission," the former executive at the retreat recalled.

Yet "when he was unhappy with you, he could be brutal. He could just take the bark off an elephant. He had no patience. He wasn't reluctant to dress down people in public. And it didn't matter what their title was."

'I've overcome a lot'

In his recent interview with The Inquirer, Greene said, "I don't know if I'll overcome this, but I've overcome a lot in my life."

An only child, Greene grew up in the housing projects of Washington.

He excelled in football and played linebacker at Anacostia High School. But any thought of a sports career was dashed by an injury. Hurt during practice, Greene was forced to suit up for a game. He severed the nerves in his left shoulder, losing the use of the arm, which has atrophied over the years.

Greene sued the school and, while in his late 20s, was awarded $1.5 million, according to a 1983 article in Jet magazine.

Before coming to Philadelphia, he worked for public housing authorities in his hometown of Washington and in Atlanta and Detroit.

In Washington, his first public housing post, Greene was hired by Alphonso Jackson, who later became HUD secretary under President George W. Bush - and, in that job, a bitter Greene critic.

According to Jackson, Greene was abrasive even when he was starting out.

"He was very difficult," Jackson said. "He was very abusive to the people in accounting, and I had to bring him in three or four times and told him that's not the way you treat individuals. Finally, we had to ask him to really leave."

Greene arrived in Philadelphia in 1998, hired by then-Mayor Ed Rendell from a post running the Detroit housing agency. Rendell stuck by Greene even after word broke that he had been named in a sexual-harassment lawsuit brought by a former employee in Detroit. The suit was settled for a payment of between $50,000 and $100,0000.

In Philadelphia, Greene took charge of the nation's fourth-largest public housing agency. Until the board suspended him last week, he oversaw a $347 million budget and 1,150 employees - and a real estate network of 13,400 units that is home to 81,000 people.

He was paid $306,370 annually. On top of that, the board gave him a $44,188 bonus last year.

One woman's complaint

While the board was saluting Greene, some of his aides said, their workday world could be nightmarish.

For one woman who settled a sexual-harassment complaint against Greene for $200,000, according to information released last week by the agency, the damage was so severe that it lingered for years after she left the agency.

"The experience was psychologically devastating," her father said. "Even today, I see reactions that emanate from that."

In her complaint, filed in 2004 with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the woman asserted that Greene would "grant promotions and transfers to women who engage in out-of-office socializing or sexual relations."

And those who didn't?

The complaint says they were demoted, disciplined, transferred to "undesirable assignments and work locations," or fired.

In her case, the harassment unfolded in what Greene's critics say was a regular and disturbing pattern.

At first, according to the woman's friends, the unmarried Greene began asking this senior staffer out for drinks and dinner, inviting her to galas. Then he began calling her late at night and sending text messages.

Before long, he moved her office from an agency facility in North Philadelphia to PHA's headquarters off Market Street. Her new office was two doors from Greene's office.

After she made it clear that she was not interested in a sexual relationship, she was summarily transferred to a new office - in the Abbotsford project, six miles from her staff.

And, a friend said, it got worse.

She left for a vacation and returned to find, once again, that her office had been moved - this time to the Blumberg Apartments at 23d and Jefferson Streets in North Philadelphia. Her office had no phone - and no heat.

Finally, the woman was fired. Her tenure at the agency lasted all of 11 months.

A layoff, a demotion, a lawsuit

Men, too, could face a tough time at PHA.

Several years ago, PHA paid a massive settlement to two men who say Greene punished them for testifying in an employment-discrimination case filed by two coworkers.

PHA manager Edward J. Marra and supervisor Albert DiGravio had testified at the civil trial of their colleagues who sued PHA after they were passed over for a promotion.

PHA lost the suit over the promotions. A federal jury ruled in favor of the workers involved in the promotions dispute, though the verdict was later reversed.

At one point, a federal court found, Greene grilled Marra over whether he had testified in the civil case. When Marra answered yes, Greene reacted with a "look of disgust," the court said.

A few months later, Marra was laid off.

Six weeks after the trial, DiGravio was demoted and transferred to another department. In his new position inspecting Section 8 housing, DiGravio was forced to trade his business suit for boots and dungarees and "endured hazardous working conditions and was regularly infested with fleas and lice," according to a federal appeals court ruling. Marra and DiGravio sued PHA and won a $700,000 award.

Nancy Wasser, the lawyer who represented DiGravio and Marra, said it was clear that Greene had targeted them.

"PHA was run like a fiefdom, requiring tithing, obeisance and fealty," Wasser wrote in an e-mail to The Inquirer. "Not following the command means banishment."

'Just how things are'

Beleaguered staffers say they often felt trapped with nowhere to turn.

One woman even told a friend, "I would pray that one day he'd hit me because then someone would pay attention. No one pays attention to verbal abuse."

They worried that any complaint to human resources would find its way to Greene.

Certainly, the HR department had an odd notion about how to protect employees.

In a sexual-harassment case filed in 2004, a female finance manager who complained about Greene's "inappropriate" touching and profanity said an HR manager had told her not to take it personally. "That's just how things are at PHA."

The manager eventually received a $98,000 settlement payment from PHA, the agency revealed last week.

"When you went to human resources to log a complaint, the door was slammed in your face," a junior staffer said.

Added a senior manager: "If you're groped by him, you don't know where to go."

Indeed, one top executive close to Greene acknowledged that when he fielded complaints, he told workers to either tough it out or quit.

"If the verbal abuse is too great," he said he would tell them, "you need to leave."

Tellingly, the agency's "integrity officer" - the official in charge of ferreting out wrongdoing by PHA police officers - ended up facing retaliation herself, according to two former PHA employees with knowledge of the case.

After the integrity official, attorney Nancy Hartsough, rebuffed advances from Greene, she, too, ended up in a new assignment - managing PHA's cars and trucks from a Grays Ferry facility, the former employees said.

They said Greene had ordered Hartsough to join him for dinner and drinks at restaurants in Fairmount, ostensibly to talk about work, and then made inappropriate comments.

Once, Greene put his arm around her and said, "If you weren't married, you'd be going home with me tonight."

When Greene arranged a business trip to Ocean City, Md., and ordered Hartsough's booking changed so she would be in his hotel, she invited her husband along to avoid being alone with Greene, she told colleagues.

It was shortly after that Maryland trip that Greene transferred her. Hartsough later quit PHA.

Reached for comment Friday, Hartsough said she did not want to talk about the incident.

Whether it be to Grays Ferry or to a North Philadelphia project, this sort of banishment was a topic of gallows humor within PHA.

"We used to call it 'The Greene Mile.' That's the last stop before they get rid of you," said another former agency worker.

The reference is to the 1999 movie in which the Green Mile was the corridor leading to the execution chamber.

INSIDE

It's time for PHA to get its house in order. Karen Heller, A2.

Who'll shape PHA's future? Nutter or Street. Currents, C1.

Editorial, C4.

EndText

Contact staff writer Jennifer Lin at 215-854-5659 or jlin@phillynews.com.
Contributing this article were Inquirer staff writers Mark Fazlollah, Nathan Gorenstein, Christopher K. Hepp, Jeff Shields, John Shiffman, and John Sullivan.