Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Wolf's DRPA appointee has clouded past

How did an entrepreneur with a history of bankruptcies and failed businesses get appointed to the troubled port authority?

Whitney White: "It's a witch hunt and it's pissing me off," says the DRPA board member on those questioning his ability to serve. FACEBOOK PHOTO
Whitney White: "It's a witch hunt and it's pissing me off," says the DRPA board member on those questioning his ability to serve. FACEBOOK PHOTORead more

WHEN GOV. Wolf appointed Whitney White to the Delaware River Port Authority this year, Wolf's office said White was one of six qualified appointees who would "bring important expertise and diverse perspectives" to the debt-ridden agency that runs toll bridges between Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

"DRPA's work is vital to our economic success and these professionals will help the commonwealth create jobs that pay for middle-class families," Wolf said in a statement in March, when White and the others were appointed to six-year terms.

Some Democratic officials, however, have privately expressed concern that the governor's office may have dropped the ball in vetting White, 48, a mysterious entrepreneur behind several unsuccessful corporations who was fired from a Chester government post in 2012.

White now serves as chairman of a nonprofit group called the Global Institute for Strategic Investment. The institute, which White describes as a "think tank" to promote international trade, has a Washington, D.C., phone number. But it is located in "Suite 1B" of a Philadelphia address, according to a "sensitive, proprietary, and confidential" brochure on its website.

That building is a rowhouse with cracked bricks and chipped paint on a narrow block of Orianna Street in Northern Liberties. Two of the numbers above the door are missing.

It doesn't look like a global think tank with a stated mission of "ushering in a new age of prosperity."

"That's called 1B, the basement," White said in a phone interview last week. "There's 1B, and 1A is everything else."

White said he lives in the house.

Records show that the Global Institute for Strategic Investment was incorporated in 2012 by Bryn Mawr resident Mark Mazanek, a business partner of White's in a company called Inventive Development, the for-profit arm of the institute.

Mazanek, who is also secretary of the institute, hung up the phone last week before a reporter could ask a question about Inventive Development or the global institute.

"At this point, I don't think we have any comment, but I appreciate your interest and have a good day," he said.

White said Mazanek "pioneered plasma" but hasn't seen much success lately.

"It's like waiting tables while waiting for your big break as an actor," White said. "We're both struggling."

Tax liens, bankruptcies

White, a former SEPTA cop, worked in the Clinton administration on the advance team that handles presidential travel.

But he is perhaps a curious choice to help run the DRPA, which is $1.6 billion in debt and attempting to recover from years of cronyism and fiscal mismanagement. (A 2012 New Jersey comptroller report found that DRPA commissioners and others had treated the agency "like a personal ATM.")

City records show that four tax liens have been placed on the rowhouse headquarters of the Global Institute for Strategic Investment. White's wife owns the house. The city is seeking about $14,000 in taxes and penalties.

White has filed for bankruptcy at least four times, according to court records. One case in 2007 was thrown out because he repeatedly failed to pay the court a $100 filing fee. He says he is currently unemployed. DRPA commissioners are unpaid.

White led Chester Mayor John Linder's transition team after he was elected in 2011. He was appointed executive director of the Chester Economic Development Authority in January 2012 - then fired by the authority's board six months later. Chester City Council essentially booted White out of City Hall in September 2012, passing a resolution to prohibit him from representing the city "in any capacity."

"When you meet him, he looks really good and sounds really good and if you're not too critical you might think he is what he purports to be," said a government official familiar with White, whom he described as a charismatic name-dropper.

Some area Democrats have quietly questioned White's appointment, but said they did not want to publicly challenge Wolf on the matter.

"Is it just a story of someone wandering through life hoping to be a big guy? Or is there more to it?" the official asked. "He's got multiple companies and he's always popping up here and there. Obviously, he has friends."

White answered the phone last week at a number once listed for EmergeBio, a company set up in 2011 inside a Wissahickon duplex. No one answered the door there on a recent weekday. An empty case of Coors Light and kids' bikes sat on the porch.

"Nothing happened with it. We didn't make any money off it," White said of EmergeBio.

His partner in that venture was Brian Dougherty, son of Joseph Dougherty, the former Ironworkers union boss who was sentenced on Monday to 19 years in prison for racketeering conspiracy.

White said EmergeBio was one of several companies he set up with the idea of purchasing bio-based and bio-preferred products, then reselling them to the federal government at a profit.

"If we can get people to invest and let us buy products and sell to the government, we'll own the market as a minority firm," White said of his original plan.

White said they met with a potential EmergeBio investor, but it didn't pan out. He said the man claimed that the bank backing his money was "up near the North Pole."

"A guy who called himself an investor seemed to be some kind of shady dude. I think he went to jail or something," White said. "He had an attorney and he turned out to not be an attorney, either."

Those weren't the first shady dudes White crossed paths with. In 2005, White filed a certification in bankruptcy court stating that he had been awarded 1,500,000 shares in a company called Capital Hill Gold, doing business as Amerimine. At the time, White claimed, the shares were worth $645,000. But he said in a recent interview that the stock soon dropped to a fraction of a penny.

"They weren't real in the first place," White said of the company. "They were trying to get a bump from our connections."

Dougherty said the failed EmergeBio venture with White had no connection to the Ironworkers union.

"Hopefully, we were going to be able to get contracts through the government. He knew the ins and outs of how to get contracts, the paperwork and whatnot," Dougherty said of White, who has been involved with several other similar companies, all registered at residential addresses.

"I know that Whitney's huge on the concept and has been trying to get something off the ground for years," Dougherty said. "I don't think he has."

One of the incorporators of EmergeBio is Adrienne Thomas, a lawyer who was an aide to then-state Sen. Vince Fumo. Thomas' late husband, James D. "Jay" Thomas, was DRPA's personnel manager.

Thomas has also partnered with White in a consultancy called Franklin Global Group LLC and its partner company Peregrine Renewables, documents show.

The two companies share a janky homemade website, which describes Franklin Global as a "privately held 21st century firm with diverse global interests, in emerging domestic and international markets."

The companies are located in a Pennsauken residence owned by Thomas. White is listed as Franklin's former managing partner and CEO. Thomas is the current owner, according to her LinkedIn account.

"Carrying multiple Federal contracting set-aside status' (sic), Peregrine has a mission of providng (sic) biobased products, renewable energy/fuels, and energy efficient solutions to $600 biliion-dollar (sic), public contracting and $500 billion-dollar, private contracting marketplace(s)..," reads one of the passages on the website, which also misspells the name of Franklin Global Group twice.

White said Franklin Global Group was "basically miscellaneous, going after whatever we could find business doing."

Thomas, who also sits on the "governing board" of the think tank located in White's basement, has attended at least three DRPA meetings since White was appointed to the board, meeting minutes show. White said he'd asked Thomas to attend the meetings because she "knows people" and knows how the meetings are conducted.

Thomas did not respond to requests for comment.

When the Daily News called a phone number once listed for Atlantic Biofuel - another company that White set up with Mazanek that White says has been unsuccessful - a woman who answered the phone said the number is her personal cellphone. But, she said, others had been calling the same wrong number for years, trying to track down White.

"You wouldn't believe all the calls I've received," said the woman, who asked that her name not be printed. "I've received calls from creditors regarding Atlantic Biofuel. They were looking for a Whitney and just looking for bills to be paid. There were various companies, not just the same person."

It's who you know

So how did Whitney White end up on the board of a port authority with a nearly $290 million budget?

White said even he was surprised to get a call from Wolf's staff, which initially said they were considering him for an appointment to the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority.

"Then they said DRPA. I said, 'Wow, OK,' " White said. "I never would have imagined being on DRPA."

Wolf's office said White's appointment was recommended by Lt. Gov. Mike Stack, a former state senator from Northeast Philly. Stack spokesman Gary Tuma - former longtime spokesman for Fumo - said White was known to people involved with local ports and the Tioga Marine Terminal.

"He has an impressive resume, and when Lt. Gov. Stack interviewed him, he found him to be equally impressive in person," Tuma said, adding that White is close with Ryan Boyer, the Laborers' District Council business manager who Stack supported for the DRPA chairmanship.

In resumes or on LinkedIn, White describes himself as a major player in global trade and "senior level strategist" in governmental affairs and finance who has been involved in "$2+ billion-dollars in international trade, energy & project finance deals."

White's LinkedIn originally said he is the president of Inventive Development, which is "involved in international projects ranging from Port acquisition and privatization to infrastructure and product sales."

But the description of Inventive, as well as the affiliated Global Institute for Strategic Investment, were deleted after the Daily News began asking questions about the organizations. It is unclear what exactly Inventive does but it has sought enrollment in the federal government's New Markets Tax Credit Program.

White did a stint at what was then Salomon Smith Barney, but he misspells the name of the company as "Solomon" on his resume and LinkedIn page.

In a lengthy interview last week, White said he believes the questions about his ability to serve as a DRPA commissioner are likely being raised by Delaware County politicians who didn't approve of his work in Chester.

"It's a witch hunt and it's pissing me off," White said, adding: "When I find out who it is - and I will find out - they're going to wake a sleeping giant."

White said his lack of income is a sign of his honesty.

"I had a guy ask me: 'You came out of the White House. Why don't you have more money?' It's because I don't take money in brown bags," White said. "I'd rather struggle on the outside than have someone provide me a meal on the inside."

As to how he ended up at DRPA, White said that's simple.

"It's from knowing people," he said.