Ex-mayor: Embattled Philly housing czar given too much power, suing for golden parachute

In hindsight, they gave him too much power.

That's why the Philadelphia Housing Authority board learned years too late that its revered executive director had secretly settled a string of sexual harassment complaints. And spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of public money doing so.

"I feel betrayed by Carl Greene, because we gave him every support that he would ever need," former Mayor John F. Street said Wednesday, responding to Greene's financial woes, alleged sexual power plays and, now, breach-of-contract lawsuit.

"Over a period of time, we ceded too much (power) to him," said Street, chairman of the five-person board.

Gov. Ed Rendell, fellow board members and tenants in public housing share his sense of betrayal, Street said.

He spoke outside the authority's headquarters, where Greene's personal belongings have been boxed up after 12 years on the job.

Technically, Greene remains on paid leave while a federal grand jury, the U.S. Housing and Urban Development agency and the authority's board investigate his tenure. As many as eight women — including the four who filed written complaints leading to at least $900,000 in settlements — have now stepped forward to say the boss sexually harassed them.

Greene, 53, remains out of sight and reportedly out of state.

His lawyer, Clifford Haines, said Greene is at an inpatient medical facility, being diagnosed and treated for undisclosed problems. He has refused to elaborate, to the public or the board that helped shape Greene's reputation as a brilliant, hard-charging public official.

Street conceded at a reflective, hour-long news conference on a city sidewalk, however, that Greene ruled with an "iron fist."

Greene, though still employed, fired a pre-emptive strike against the board Tuesday with his late-night lawsuit. The suit warns the board, which meets Thursday, that Greene can only be fired from his $300,000-a-year job under strict conditions.

The sexual harassment claims — settled confidentially, and presumably without admissions of wrongdoing — do not constitute the kind of criminal misconduct for which he can be fired, Haines argues.

Street believes they may. The women say their boss groped them, demanded sexual favors for promotions and retaliated if they refused. But even if not, the board may decide to pay the remaining two years on his contract to make him go away, Street said.

"If we can't fire him for cause, and we don't want him to come back, we'll have to pay him," Street said, adding that he doesn't believe Greene filed the lawsuit to keep his job. "I think it's about walking out of here with a little bit of money — as much as they can get."

Greene earned $350,000 including bonuses last year, and has no dependents. Yet he found himself in financial straits early this year, after the IRS filed a $52,000 lien for unpaid taxes on outside income. He settled up in late March.

Days later, he missed the first of several mortgage payments on his $615,000 townhouse. The bank began foreclosure proceedings in late July over $7,500 in missed payments and late fees. Greene later blamed the lapses on work stress, and paid them off.

Greene, who grew up in public housing in Washington, D.C., arrived in Philadelphia in 1998 and has earned accolades — and pay raises — for turning around a once moribund housing agency. Like peers around the country, he tore down dangerous, high-rise public housing and created attractive townhomes and garden apartments that have drawn both low- and middle-income residents.

He proved especially deft at financing, securing hundreds of millions in federal grant money to transform the city's housing stock.

The money came with near-constant federal audits. So Street does not expect the current investigations to turn up much financial chicanery.

"I just don't think Carl Greene was stealing. I think every dime is going to be in place," Street said Thursday.

But his internal investigation so far shows that Greene and others were splitting or otherwise "manipulating" the sexual-harassment settlements to avoid disclosure to the board, required for any payments over $100,000, Street said.

Three complaints filed between 2004 and 2008 were settled for $98,000 $200,000 and $350,000. A fourth is near settlement for $250,000 or more.

Greene often bypassed in-house lawyers and worked directly with outside firms and insurance company lawyers to settle the claims, Street said. He questioned the validity of the confidentiality clauses, and the legality of the settlements themselves.

"I don't know the extent to which anyone is really bound by them," Street said. "There may be some sort of fraud involved."

Greene has not received a target letter informing him he is the target of a federal criminal probe, Haines said.

Philadelphia lawyer Mark Foley helped defend the first three complaints, the last two when he was at the Cozen O'Connor law firm. In the final case, the firm told agency managers the settlement had to go to the board, Cozen O'Connor President Thomas A. "Tad" Decker has said. The firm was instead fired, he said.

At a minimum, Street finds the filing of Greene's contract lawsuit premature. But Haines sees it otherwise, given the board's search for an interim director — and the call for someone to collect Greene's personal effects.

"I think they've made it perfectly clear in their actions that he's fired," Haines said.