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El-Shabazz declares himself 'perfect candidate' for DA, despite tax debts

Tariq El-Shabazz repeatedly told a supportive crowd gathered in a Chestnut Hill bar Monday that he has flaws but is still their best option for Philadelphia district attorney.

In formally announcing his candidacy, El-Shabazz, who recently resigned as first assistant district attorney, carefully laid out his plans if elected to the job. But he continued to dodge most questions about the $190,712 in federal, state, and city tax lien judgments on file against him in Common Pleas Court.

"I can tell you that there is a payment plan in place with the IRS tax liens," he said. "I can tell you we are working to settle all debt that I have."

El-Shabazz would not say what, if any, payments he had made toward the debts.

He said the debts did not interfere with his work in the last seven months, when he served as District Attorney Seth Williams' top deputy, before resigning from that $165,576-per-year post last week.

Williams this month dropped his bid for a third term, amid swirling controversy driven by an ongoing federal investigation into his personal and political finances, and his long-delayed reporting of accepting more than $175,000 in gifts from 2010 to 2015.

In declining to explain how he had incurred the debts, El-Shabazz pointed to his gathered supporters and said: "The purpose of this here is not to indicate whether I was a perfect businessman or anything like that. It's just to indicate to you that I'm a perfect candidate for district attorney."

If elected DA, he would run an office with a $52 million budget and a  full-time staff of 590.

El-Shabazz called it a "very good question" when asked if, given Williams' high-profile financial missteps, he owed it to voters to explain his own financial problems.

"Let me answer it this way: Please, do not try to put spillage on Tariq Karim El-Shabazz  by the failings of Seth Williams," he said. "I think the voters deserve to know that I have debt, that I have in fact entered into agreements to handle that debt, and that I will handle that debt. I haven't run from it. I'm not running from this issue."

The El-Shabazz tax bills include:
* Six IRS liens from 2013 to 2016 for a combined $137,187, the last coming 3½ months after he took the job as first deputy district attorney.

* A combined city lien of $50,947 that started growing in 2001 and is listed as unpaid as of Sept. 30.

* A state personal income tax lien of $2,577 filed last June.

City records also show that El-Shabazz's former law firm, El-Shabazz & Harris, was taken to court six times from 2008 to 2016 for lack of payment of rent at his former offices in the Land Title Building on South Broad Street.

A judge last May entered a judgment of $37,572 against the firm, three months before El-Shabazz returned to the District Attorney's Office.  Judgments were also entered against the firm for $30,328 in 2015, $27,978 in 2012, and $24,752 in 2009.  Two filings in 2015 and 2008 were discontinued.

The management firm that runs the building and the lawyer who filed for the judgments did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

El-Shabazz, an assistant district attorney from 1988 to 1993 before becoming a defense lawyer for two decades, used his announcement to lay out plans to deal with what he called "mass incarceration."

He vowed to find funding for more court diversionary programs to help nonviolent offenders avoid jail, to eliminate the cash bail system for those same offenders, and to lead a coalition of law enforcement and elected officials to reform the state's probation and parole system.

He said those plans would not apply to violent offenders "who continue to terrorize our neighborhoods."

El-Shabazz tried to use those plans to draw a distinction between himself and the five candidates previously declared in the May 16 Democratic primary election.

"These are real and meaningful ideas, not the lip service from those who do not really get it but just want an office," he said.

A series of filings in Montgomery County Court, one as recent as March 2015, list El-Shabazz as living in Horsham.  Candidates for district attorney must live in Philadelphia for one year before the election.

El-Shabazz last week said he previously lived at the Horsham address but has lived in Philadelphia for the last three years.

One Montgomery County filing, reported by the blog Philadelinquency on Saturday, was a "protection from abuse" order listed as being filed in 2009 against El-Shabazz and then withdrawn.

El-Shabazz said an "accusation against myself and my wife" was "found to be flatly false, untrue, dismissed and, in fact, sealed."  He then claimed the blog "is being financed by someone who doesn't want to see me in office."

The blog is run by Christopher Sawyer, a former Republican candidate for sheriff in Philadelphia. Sawyer denied that anyone was financing his blog.

"That's one of the reason I'll be a better DA," El-Shabazz said to close his news conference.  "I know how people can make false accusations."