Emanuel Freeman: The Man Who Duped City Hall

Freeman, a.k.a. The Buddha, was supposedly rebuilding Germantown. And even though project after project failed, political heavyweights—from Ed Rendell to Bob Brady to Michael Nutter—kept giving him our money. Lots and lots of our money.

Even though he was on the inside now, Ray Devlin wasn’t in a position to say. It would take some law enforcement agency six months of poring over the bank records to figure it out. But to Devlin, that was the whole point: Without proper records or internal controls, there was no way to know where the money had gone, or would go in the future — and if the money wasn’t going into keeping the buildings safe, or to the employees, or the health-care premiums, or the pencils and books for the charter school, then it was going somewhere else, in which case “the only moral course of action” in Devlin’s mind was to declare bankruptcy, so that Settlement’s properties could be off-loaded into the hands of owners who would take care of them.

Devlin called a meeting with the chairman of the GGHDC board and told him what he knew. The next day, Freeman called Devlin and said, according to Devlin, “Don’t you ever go behind my back again.” Next, Devlin went to officials at PIDC and told them why Settlement was missing its mortgage payments on the PIDC loans. “I thought I had a fiduciary responsibility to our lender,” Devlin told me. That was on a Wednesday. On Friday, Freeman fired Devlin.

AT THIS POINT, Freeman was telling the city he was so broke that he couldn’t make payroll. If you’re the city, what do you do?
Two answers.

One: You pay him more.

Two: You pay him faster.

In late 2006, the city, at Donna Reed Miller’s urging, lent Freeman $1.3 million to acquire a historic building: the Germantown YWCA. The state kicked in $500,000.

It was a Hail Mary, a way to get Settlement on its feet; the idea was that Freeman could take his scattered operations, house them all in the Y, add a gym and some retail shops, and claw his way out of the hole. But Freeman missed his very first mortgage payment on the Y. He would never make a single payment. By August 2009, the Germantown Chronicle would report that the Y’s ground-floor windows were smashed and there was a “gaping, unsecured door into the basement of the building,” attached to a stairway littered with trash.

Also in 2006, a city worker in the managing director’s office — I’ll call him David Smith — started to get phone calls “like clockwork” from the office of Mayor Street, from Miller, and from Smith’s boss, Pedro Ramos, the managing director.

These high-ranking officials wanted Smith to process a series of expedited “emergency” payments to Settlement on its existing contracts with Commerce, the Department of Human Services and the Department of Public Health. (By now, OHCD was no longer funding Freeman, due to his repeated failure to submit audits and tax returns.) When I asked Street about the emergency payments, he responded via e-mail, “I’m not sure I have much to offer as it was my practice to allow the departments to manage their contracts.” But his chief of staff at the time, Joyce Wilkerson, told me that she made the calls, and Pedro Ramos told me he would get calls from either the mayor’s office or the departments asking for the expedited payments. Says Wilkerson, “I remember [Settlement] was having a hard time making payroll.” She got involved because “somebody called” her and asked for a “turnaround” — she says she doesn’t remember who. Settlement’s clients were “people you want to receive services,” Wilkerson says, “so you end up in kind of a catch-22.”

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  • Alexander

    This article was superbly written, informative and revealing in the simple fact that Philly remains a very corrupt and close-knit city. And we thought that we had progressed from here!

    • Shirley Harrison

      It’s unfortunate, that the old regime will remain in power, hidden by a maze of corruption. and maleficent cronies. Emanuel took advantage of the trust, friendship, and respect, a neighborhood had for the Freeman family. He was raised by gospel singers and Pastors. In the same neighborhood he raped and pillaged.

  • Maxine

    I absolutely cannot believe the audacity of the public officials in this city. Here it is the City owes small business owners Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars for legitimate work that was done, and t

  • Stephanie

    I knew Emanuel “way back when” when community voter registration and self-determination were waves of the times. Having spent much of my adult life away from Philly, I didn’t know Emanuel had morphed from respected 1970s activist to greedy profiteer. I am so disappointed.

  • Lauren

    I read with great disgust the article “Emanuel Freeman: The Man Who Duped City Hall” earlier this week in Philadelphia Magazine. I’m infuriated at the waste, mismanagement, seeming corruption, and overall disregard for the residents—by not only Freeman, but also by the Northwest’s elected leaders – who are supposed to have their constituents’ best interest at heart.
    Freeman received $100 million over the last 20 years via grants, tax breaks and low-interest loans and what do we have to show for it? A walk through Germantown is appalling: downtrodden buildings, trash on the streets, failing businesses, underperforming schools, crime, empty lots. Is THIS what $100 million buys?
    Where would our community be today if that money was put to proper use? We could have better schools; thriving businesses; help for mothers and children; community organizations that actually HELP the community. In short, Germantown could be—and should be– a shining example for other neighborhoods in the city. What a wasted opportunity—especially for our youth.
    While Councilwoman Donna Reid Miller seems to have gotten the majority of the scrutiny, I demand to know where our other Northwest elected officials stand on this. My State Representative, John Myers, should be as infuriated as I…

  • Lauren

    yet so far we’ve not heard a single word from Myers on Freeman, Miller or their financial rape of Germantown. In fact, Jason Fagone’s article indicates that Myers is in bed with Miller, Freeman and others who’ve literally robbed the community. He writes, that Myers was part of “Settlement’s freshman class” and “had graduated to positions of real power in the city, thanks in part to Freeman’s connections.”
    And what’s more, despite everything, Freeman still believes he has a pipeline and working relationship with our elected officials. He wants Miller’s assistance to “embark on a significant venture” located behind the failing school he wasted taxpayer money on. What’s wrong with this picture and where does it end?
    It’s time that we demand better. Better for our children, better for working parents struggling to get by, better for our local businesses, better for our community as a whole. It’s time we demand more from our leaders. I am a professional working woman, a mother, a wife, a taxpaying resident and I now accept the challenge of being a community activist. I urge others to stand with me in a fight to demand that the funds invested in our district are put to…

  • Lauren

    good use and to begin to reinvest in Northwest Philadelphia — this time for real.

    Lauren Anderson Youngblood
    Community Activist

  • Steve

    The LAST thing we need is another Youngblood in office. She is just as corrupt as the others in this article, and sold her district away just to stay in office! Sorry, we will fight tooth and nail to make sure that NO Youngblood ever makes in in office again!

  • Pat

    If this article is of interest to you and you oppose the pillaging that has taken place in this great Philadelphia neighborhood, please check out a new Face Book page called Battle for Germantown and become a friend.

  • Enough’s Enough

    I observed Freeman and Settlement in action while working on site but for another employer. A dazed and confused finance wing, late paychecks, the hopeless charter school, and both Mr. and Mrs. Freeman’s aloof manner and fancy cars- all as bad as the article describes. I hope Freeman’s ride is over and other leaders can step up in Germantown.

  • Rozalind

    You won’t hear from John Myers because he was a part of it as well. He sits on the Board of Germantown Settlement and his wife was on their payroll for quite some time. So you should be appalled with him as well. Every last one of them needs to payback all the money they stole from the city and state. LISC had better take a look at their executive director as well, he’s the former COO of Germantown Settlement.