The Reporter

He had become a legendary figure in the annals of Philadelphia journalism ...

Enough people took Harry Karafin to make him a relatively affluent mad. (Too many, in fact, to detail in a single article.) Long conditioned on frugal survival on a reporter’s modest salary, Karafin found that the rewards of public relations work could enable him to live a new style of life.

He became more popular. People showered him with gifts. (He got, for instance, more watches than he could use. His very close friend, bail bondsman Albie Schwartz, gave him an expensive set of golf clubs which, though he doesn’t play the game, he keeps out ostentatiously in a corner of his den. Magistrate Dave Keiser regularly sends him cases of Scotch. He boasted that he didn’t have to pay a cent for his daughter’s engagement party at Palumbo’s, or even for his recent hernia operation.)

He took to acquiring expensive jewelry (mostly from a store owned by the brother-in-law of a real estate man who was in the bankruptcy ring) and buying his status-conscious wife — an aggressive woman with whom, friends say, Karafin is a milquetoast — flashy clothes and fancy furs. He began vacationing in Europe and Puerto Rico. He even began dabbling in the stock market.

He had, of course, sold his modest twin home in Oxford Circle — for $1000 less than he had paid for it a decade before — and put up $19,000 cash towards a huge two-story house on a large lot in the far Northeast.

A real estate expert estimates the value of the house conservatively at $45,000. Karafin had builder Solomon Bronstein construct the house for him for $30,000. (Bronstein was one of the witnesses called in the Special Grand Jury’s probe of zoning abuses in 1963.) In addition, Karafin added a host of special features to the house, including a custom-built staircase, expensive lighting fixtures, air conditioning, and an enclosed rear patio and fireplace. Then he packed more than $20,000 worth of fancy new furniture in his newly-acquired castle and surrounded it with a nursery of expensive shrubbery and a $3000 fence.

In 1964, shortly after he purchased his new home, Karafin also bought, for cash, two new cars from Wilkie Buick on North Broad Street — though at the time he was the only one in his family who knew how to drive. On one car went the license tag HK 156; on the other, 156 HK. (Harry Karafin’s new house was at 156 Stratford Road.) He kept both cars for two years, and last December, bought two new Buicks, one an expensive Riviera model, and paid cash for them also.

All this despite the fact that in the last few years Harry Karafin’s salary at the Inquirer has averaged less than $11,000 annually. Before that, it was lower.

How did he do it? He did it by prostituting the power of the press. He pimped away his legitimate rights and privileges as a reporter and pocketed the returns. He used subtle threat and coercion on those who could least afford the kind of notoriety he might give them if he were an ethical reporter. He provided public relations and other types of "services" at inflated fees because he knew that only he could give them what no other public relations counsel could give them: Alleviation from fear of exposure in the press, from fear of sensational, slanted articles. (He couldn’t do it alone, of course, but that’s another story.)

And, yet — and this is what was particularly infuriating to those in the business who had an inkling of his activities — Harry J. Karafin went around calling himself a reporter.

He was a mouthy guy.