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.

Time and time again, Miller took Freeman at his word. She didn’t challenge him. And almost no one was willing to challenge Miller. Not even in the summer of 2008, which is the pivot point in the Settlement saga — the moment when it stops being a troubling historical yarn about race and real estate and becomes something way more raw.

In the summer of 2008, Elders Place I and II were baking. The hallways were hot. Some of the air conditioners were broken. Low-income old people lived there. On August 1st, HUD inspectors found rodent infestations, leaky roofs, and either “warm” or “extremely hot” hallways at both Elders I and II, plus a broken fire alarm system at Elders II; two months later, they went back, and their report noted problems with mold, ancient pumps, illegal wiring, water leaks, a lack of hot water, a “very hot” hallway, and trash. HUD wrote Freeman, to alert him to these dangerous problems.

Meanwhile, the social-agency side of Settlement was falling apart, too. On August 25th, an inspector with the city’s Department of Human Services began a spot check on Settlement’s “Services to Children in their Own Homes” program, which was designed to keep children in their own homes and prevent foster-care placement where possible. The city paid Settlement more than $460,000 on its SCOH contract alone in 2008. Here’s what the city inspector, who recommended that the city shut the program down, wrote in the report:

This agency seems to be able only to provide minimal social services to the families. They are deficient in most of the required standards, many of which are safety-driven. There were months and months of contacts notes missing. The agency blamed this problem on workers who were no longer employed with the agency. It appeared to this evaluator that many of the problems were systemic; meaning that the agency had no real or concrete understanding of what was required of them.

ONE CITY AGENCY actually followed procedure and cut off Freeman’s funding, despite his repeated requests. On November 17, 2008, the director of housing, Deborah McColloch, rejected a request from Freeman for $40,000, pointing out in a letter to him that his audits were still delinquent, and that Settlement and its housing company owed outstanding payroll taxes to the city, state and federal governments totaling approximately $800,000. “I am sorry I cannot approve your request,” McColloch wrote.

On December 9th, Freeman wrote to Don Schwarz, head of the city’s Department of Public Health. Schwarz is a distinguished pediatrician, and a senior Nutter administration official. Freeman e-mailed Schwarz asking for help in getting an emergency payment of $133,855 from the Department of Human Services.