Former Philadelphia Mayor Accused of Abusing Funds and Authority

As head of housing authority, John Street awarded almost a million dollars in contracts to law firm where his son worked.

Posted: 03/15/2011 04:49 AM EDT

Former Philadelphia Mayor John F. Street could be facing serious legal problems and in a somewhat ironic twist, it’s all down to his relationship with his son, Sharif Street, who is a lawyer.

While serving as chairman of the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA), the former mayor and his team abused his position to award several million dollars in contracts to outside legal firms, including one his son worked for, according to a report released last week by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG).

Investigators found that in addition to paying $4.5 million to outside authorities that HUD has deemed “unreasonable and unnecessary payments” between April 2007 and August 2010, the PHA also spent $1.1 million to obstruct OIG audits.

“Having reviewed many housing authorities over the years, it is clear that the board and executive director of the Philadelphia Housing Authority tremendously abused their positions. The outrageous fees paid to law firms were unnecessary and exorbitant and denied taxpayer funds to benefit the occupants of the Housing Authority,” said Michael P. Stephens, HUD’s acting inspector general.

Moreover, Street did not request a conflict of interest waiver for the PHA to hire his son or any law firm with which he was associated. Sharif Street was an associate with Wolf Block Schorr & Solis-Cohen, LLP, until March 2008, which PHA paid reportedly paid millions. Investigators reviewed 185 invoices totally $923,000 but were unable to determine exactly how many billable hours Sharif charged. They did uncover one invoice charged directly by him for 37.6 hours at $250 per hour for a total of $9,400, but 45 of the firm’s invoices used block billing, which is prohibited by HUD. As a result, investigators could not determine whether the son charged additional time.

“Chairman Street’s approval of contracts to the law firm that employed his son is an exceptionally distasteful conflict of interest.  Our investigation on this issue continues,” said Stephens.

Image: AP Photo/Matt Rourke