From the very start, Tariq El-Shabazz’s campaign for district attorney has been clouded by stories about his money troubles.
A few days before the Democrat officially jumped into the race, Philly.com reported that there were $190,712 in tax lien judgments filed against him in the city’s Common Pleas Court. Shortly thereafter, news emerged that his former law firm had been taken to court because it allegedly didn’t pay rent. El-Shabazz, who has since satisfied $53,525 of his debts, according to court records, has repeatedly argued that he has the skills to manage the DA’s $52 million budget despite his baggage.
But those aren’t the only financial skeletons in his closet: In 2010, Springside School filed a lawsuit against El-Shabazz and his wife, Aishah, claiming that they failed to pay $25,764 in school tuition and other incidentals for their two daughters. According to the complaint, the couple had previously entered into a written payment plan with Springside, but hadn’t made any payments toward it.
The school, an all-girls K-12 institution in Northwest Philadelphia that has since merged with all-boys Chestnut Hill Academy and renamed itself Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, asked for a total judgment of $34,008, which included interest and collection fees.
Campaign spokesman Aren Platt said El-Shabazz “had come on some hard financial times” in 2009 during the Great Recession and “fell behind” on payments to the school. Platt said El-Shabazz later paid off Springside’s original balance of roughly $26,000, but didn’t pay the extra thousands of dollars in interest and collection fees, which he disputes.
In court records, the school claims that El-Shabazz and his wife initially agreed to a settlement in 2012 and promised to pay the full $34,008. Springside filed a petition to reopen the case in 2013, alleging that El-Shabazz and his wife defaulted a few months earlier after providing a down payment of $14,000 and making 24 payments of $500 afterward. In 2013, a judgment of $8,178 was entered in favor of Springside and against El-Shabazz and his wife. (It is now $8,218.) They have not paid the debt, and the case is listed as open in the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas. El-Shabazz previously lived in Hatboro, Pa., per his campaign.
Platt said El-Shabazz is still “currently disputing the fees that they tacked onto it.” Springside Chestnut Hill Academy declined to comment on the case.
On Monday, we put the question to El-Shabazz’s campaign that it has heard many times before: Given his financial woes, does he have what it takes to oversee an office with a multimillion-dollar budget and hundreds of employees?
“Tariq has never shied away from the fact that during the Great Recession, he fell on some hard economic times,” Platt replied. “He is in the process of making all of those debts whole, and he is like the 90 percent of Americans who have some form of debt. This is not unusual, and it’s certainly not unusual for somebody who’s in Philadelphia or somebody who’s an American.”
El-Shabazz’s campaign added that he has paid off $74,000 more in his tax debts than is listed in court documents, and that the payments are not on record because the liens haven’t been satisfied in full. Philadelphia magazine could not immediately independently verify this.
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