Consultant Accuses Controversial Real Estate Developer Shawn Bullard of Rape
“I don’t have to rape,” says Bullard, a former NFL hopeful and reality-TV personality who adamantly denies the woman’s allegations. “Just look at me and see how I look.”
[Update, April 27th, 2023] On Wednesday, April 26, 2023, a Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas jury ruled in favor of Bullard after a seven-day trial over the rape accusation and ordered his accuser to pay $250,000 in compensatory and punitive damages for defaming him.
[Original story] Well-connected Philadelphia real estate developer Shawn Bullard is a lot of things. He’s a former Temple University football player who reportedly did a practice-squad stint with the NFL’s San Diego Chargers. He’s been a reality-TV personality, having starred in the Bachelor-style Match Made in Heaven show. And he is, according to his own social media bio, a rapper and “mogul.” But according to one local woman, Bullard, 38, is also allegedly a rapist — and by Bullard’s own account, this isn’t the first time he’s been accused of harming a woman.
The Philadelphia Police Department has launched an investigation into the woman’s accusations, which stem from an incident she says occurred at Bullard’s residence inside Cira Centre South in University City on July 4th around 1 a.m.
Bullard’s accuser, Michelle, is a 33-year-old consultant from the Philadelphia area who asked that we not use her last name. According to Michelle, she did some work for Bullard in 2018 and the two stayed in touch. They had a brief and casual sexual relationship last year.
Michelle says that Bullard reached out to her at the beginning of July to see if she’d be interested in consulting on a new project, and she met him at Cira Centre South on July 3rd and the two rode in Bullard’s car to the site in question.
According to Michelle, they visited a couple of other sites as well as the leasing office for his many rental properties before winding up at Suraya in Fishtown for a drink. Then the pair had dinner at a restaurant in Rittenhouse Square whose name she does not remember, and then an after-dinner drink at Attico, the rooftop bar on Broad Street between Walnut and Locust.
The two hadn’t seen each other since 2018, and Michelle says she expected their July encounter to be about business. After the drink at Attico, Michelle and Bullard returned to his home, and she says she went inside to pick up a check for her consulting work.
“I Don’t Have to Rape …”
Michelle and Bullard have distinctly different accounts about what happened inside Bullard’s apartment that night.
Bullard claims that Michelle came on to him and that he rejected her advances.
“I didn’t even have sex with her,” Bullard told us on Monday. “She’s mad because she got rejected. I brought her down to do some work, and she started leading a fantasy life of being with me.”
According to Michelle, after she went inside for the check, Bullard “kept grabbing” her body. She says she told him that she was going to leave and that things quickly escalated.
“I walked to get my bag, and he backed me against a wall,” Michelle alleged to Philly Mag. “I felt smothered. I was in tears … He walked me backwards into his bedroom. ‘Shawn, what’s wrong with you?’ I asked him. He pushed me onto the bed. He softly said, ‘What you gonna do?’ I told him to get off of me. He pulled my dress up and pulled my underwear to the side. I said, ‘I don’t wanna fuck you, get off of me!’ And he said, ‘Are you gonna say I raped you?’ I was afraid to answer. Would he get mad? I was stunned. Do I try to fight him right now? What do I do?”
Michelle alleges that Bullard then raped her, using his size and strength to “incapacitate” her. “I kept telling him to stop,” she says.
Then, says Michelle, Bullard went into another room, and she grabbed her things and ran out of the apartment.
“I don’t have to rape no girl,” Bullard told us, continuing to assert that there was no sexual contact of any kind between him and Michelle that night. “Just look at me and see how I look.”
“She Was in Extreme Distress”
Once Michelle left Bullard’s home, she immediately called her longtime friend Caryn Kunkle, who is now acting as Michelle’s victim advocate. (Kunkle was heavily involved as an advocate for the victims of the infamous 2014 Center City gay-bashing case, and she’s taken on an advocacy role in other cases as well.) Kunkle told Michelle to come to her house in North Philly.
“When she came in and sat down, she was in extreme distress,” remembers Kunkle, whose account of what Michelle told her immediately after the incident corroborates the details Michelle gave in an interview with Philly Mag. “She was shaking and crying. I have never seen her so upset. On a scale of one to ten, it was a 15.”
Kunkle says she asked Michelle if she wanted to go to police right then but that, as Michelle confirms, she didn’t want to because Michelle had to pick up her son from her mother’s house early in the morning and take him to a 4th of July parade. Kunkle encouraged Michelle to retain her clothing from that night, which she did.
Michelle says she wasn’t sure what to do next. Philly Mag has spoken with three other friends of Michelle’s, who all say that she alleged to them, in varying degrees of detail, that Bullard had raped her.
The first of the three friends says Michelle spoke with her about the incident on July 5th.
A second friend spoke with Michelle on July 7th. “She told me that the night started going wrong once they got to his place and that he wound up forcing her onto his bed,” the woman says. “She said she was crying.”
“She didn’t go into extensive detail with me,” says the third friend, to whom Michelle recounted the incident a few days later. (All of the women Philly Mag interviewed about Michelle’s disclosure to them asked that we not use their names.) “But she said that he had pushed her into his bedroom and that she was crying and then he raped her … I told her she should file a police report. She said she wasn’t sure, mentioned how he knows so many people, that he’s special and that people wouldn’t believe her and that he knows cops.”
After a week of trying to decide how to proceed, Michelle filed a report with the Philadelphia Police Department’s Special Victims Unit on July 12th. Michelle and Kunkle say that Michelle provided investigators with the clothing Michelle wore at Bullard’s apartment. The two gave separate statements to detectives.
A Philadelphia Police Department spokesperson declined to comment on the case, but Philly Mag was able to confirm that the investigation was ongoing as of Monday and that police had made Bullard aware of Michelle’s allegations.
Bullard says he hasn’t given a statement to detectives.
“I’ve got no time for that,” Bullard told us when we asked him when he was going to Special Victims Unit to speak with investigators. “I’m not going anywhere. What’s the point? There’s nothing to report. This is a lie.”
“He Is Very Well Connected”
Michelle says that she decided to contact Philly Mag about her allegations against Bullard because “he is very well connected” in Philadelphia, and she is concerned that her allegations against him will “just go away.”
Bullard certainly has connections, and he’s been able to navigate the bureaucracy faced by developers in Philadelphia with surprising ease.
In 2017, journalist Ryan Briggs reported in the Philadelphia Weekly that Bullard “built an entire apartment complex near Temple’s medical campus illegally – no permits, no inspection – in 2015” and that he “[s]omehow, within a year … was able to retroactively clear up these issues.”
“Bullard then sought and received approvals to redevelop land near 16th Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue into more student housing units, just blocks away from his illegally built apartments,” wrote Briggs.
Earlier this year, Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Will Bender investigated a deal in which Bullard was able to acquire four adjacent city-owned lots near Temple University for $92,500 each — far below market value. Bender concluded that Bullard’s good fortunes were made possible with a “major assist” from Philadelphia City Council president Darrell Clarke.
Bender’s story includes an account of a letter that Clarke had written in support of Bullard (the Inquirer obtained a copy of that letter through a right-to-know request in 2017), a letter that later vanished from the city’s files.
“City officials have been unable to explain the price change, saying key records of the sale, including Clarke’s letter of support, have gone missing,” wrote Bender.
Bullard told the Inquirer that he didn’t know Clarke “that well.” In 2015, Clarke co-sponsored a resolution honoring Bullard for his appearance on Match Made in Heaven and his “many achievements and successes.”
In response to the Inquirer article, Bullard posted Bender’s photo, email address, and phone number on Instagram, where the developer has more than 65,000 followers.
“Normally a person would get positive press or recognition for investing and building up their community,” wrote Bullard on Instagram. (You can read his entire statement here.) “It becomes an even more extraordinary feat when that individual is a Black real estate developer who is thriving in an industry dominated by mostly Caucasian men and white influence. No different than when on the rare occasion a white athlete runs faster or jumps higher than every brother on the basketball court.”
Bullard’s Instagram also includes lots of shirtless selfies and photos of his developments and the nice things in life that his success has wrought, success that he has said was partially inspired by Donald Trump. (In 2016, Trump met with Bullard and other leaders in the Philadelphia black community while on the campaign trail. “I have been a Trump supporter since I was in college back in 2001,” Bullard reportedly told Trump. “I believe that you are the answer. I’m a full supporter. And also … you have actually inspired me.”)
View this post on Instagram
“Darkness cannot drive out Darkness; only light can do that. “Hate cannot drive out Hate; only love can do that”. #drmartinlutherking #happybirthday #mrking #mrbigg #shawnbullard #freedom #blackexcellence #blackhistory #blackking #zaddy #kapernick #realestate #motivationmonday
There are also photos of members of the Philadelphia Police Department on Bullard’s Instagram. In one image, he’s handing a $2,000 check to Philadelphia police Capt. Tyrell McCoy to sponsor the 22nd Police District’s community block party. In another, he’s posing with members of Philadelphia’s SWAT team.
And then there’s this video of two Philadelphia police officers outside one of his under-development buildings.
View this post on Instagram
I love and appreciate our Women and Men in blue. Especially when they are as beautiful inside and out as these two right here. ————————————————————————-Thank you for encouraging me and helping to keep our neighborhoods safe. Also being examples of how police should govern our neighborhoods. Also thank you for supporting black own businesses. ————————————————————————Also i will be donating $2000 to fund the entire 22nd/23rd district neighborhood block party for the neighborhood kids and parents. This June. ————————————————————————-Thank you for allowing me to be apart of it in a major way. @gymratzathleticsceo #blackexcellence
“When I seen this building, I said who got that?” said one of the unidentified cops in the video, which Bullard posted on May 31st. “When I found out Shawn had it, I said that’s what’s up!”
“It’s Not the First Time This Happened”
When reached for comment on Monday, Bullard at first laughed when we told him why we were calling.
“OH. MY. GOD,” he said. “Wow. You’re going there?”
Later in the call, Bullard revealed to Philly Mag that this wasn’t new territory for him.
“It’s not the first time this happened,” he said. “And nothing happened then, either. Ten years ago, the same thing happened. But at least then I actually knew that person.”
We asked Bullard to elaborate.
“Nothing came out of it,” he said, declining to provide further information. “She was blatantly lying then.” (A subsequent background check on Bullard turned up no arrests or criminal charges during that time frame that seem to be related to the type of allegations he is referencing.)
Bullard also threatened Philly Mag with legal action during the call, saying, “It might take a while, but I’ll get a fat check from Philadelphia magazine.”
Later in the day, Bullard texted another legal threat.
“You print such a non-further-from-the-truth story, I will OWN your … company,” he wrote. “That I promise you. She is desperate and obviously looking for attention, maybe money.”
Michelle insists her motive is far simpler.
“I’m such a private person,” she notes. “I barely put photos online. I would never put myself through this. Dealing with the police was nearly as grueling as going through the assault itself. And now, after being violated, I am on high alert for everything. Checking locks on doors. I’ve had to go into therapy.”
“I’m reconsidering what I do for work,” Michelle continues. “I find myself alone in buildings often with people I don’t know, looking at jobs. And this happened with somebody I do know. I can’t see myself going to meet somebody I don’t know. So the idea that I am doing this for attention or money is really frustrating. I just want justice.”