Phila. Housing Authority faces whistleblower suit over firing of former police supervisor

By Jon Campisi | Jun 5, 2013

The Philadelphia Housing Authority has been hit with a whistleblower lawsuit over allegations that the agency retaliated against a former supervisor in the PHA’s police department after the man raised questions concerning apparent improprieties.

The Philadelphia Housing Authority has been hit with a whistleblower lawsuit over allegations that the agency retaliated against a former supervisor in the PHA’s police department after the man raised questions concerning apparent improprieties.

Anthony V. Guidotti, Sr., is suing the PHA and four agency officials over claims that the defendants created a pretext for his Nov. 30 termination.

Guidotti had been a 27-year veteran of the Philadelphia Police Department at the time he was brought on as administrative commander of the PHA’s law enforcement division in mid-June 2008.

In his position with the PHA, Guidotti was responsible for training PHA police officers, managing the agency’s vehicle fleet, and overseeing the radio communications and public safety equipment used by the PHA, according to the civil action, which was filed May 29 at Philadelphia’s Common Pleas Court by Philadelphia attorney John F. Innelli.

The month after his hiring, Guidotti became aware that a large volume of lumber with the PHA’s name on it had been discovered at a North Philadelphia chop shop, the suit states.

The plaintiff, along with a PHA investigator and detective, looked into the matter, and discovered that the lumber had been purchased at a local hardware store using agency funds.

The three also learned through their investigation the identity of the person who had purchased the building materials, and that that individual was not authorized to make such a purchase, according to the complaint.

This information was forwarded on to the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office in August 2009, with Guidotti also informing his direct supervisor, Richard A. Zappile, of the situation.

Zappile, the former police chief for the PHA’s police department, is named as a co-defendant in the suit, as are current PHA Police Chief Benjamin Walton, the department’s assistant director of public safety and security, James Mitchell, and the department’s asset protection manager, Geralyn Hemphill.

Hemphill supervised the PHA investigator who aided the plaintiff in the investigation into the improperly purchased lumber, the suit states.

Zappile oversaw the operation of the PHA police department’s Asset Protection Unit.

In his lawsuit, Guidotti claims that Zappile and Hemphill, in the fall of 2009, created a pretext for his eventual termination.

The story, according to the lawsuit, was that Guidotti would be fired from his position for issuing a firearm to the investigator who aided the plaintiff in the inquiry into the lumber found at the chop shop.

Guidotti, who, as administrative commander of the department had the authority to issue guns to employees under certain circumstances, was the subject of what the complaint calls a “false dispute” created by Zappile and Hemphill regarding the issuance of the firearm to the investigator, with Zappile accusing the plaintiff of issuing the gun without Zappile’s knowledge.

In October 2009, Zappile instructed Guidotti to fire that investigator, along with the detective who helped in the lumber probe, both of who had informed the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office of the findings that arose from the internal investigation, the lawsuit states.

Instead of being dismissed for his alleged insubordination regarding the firearm matter, however, Guidotti was stripped of his command status and demoted to patrol officer, the complaint states.

The patrol car driven by the plaintiff was even fitted with a tracking device so Zappile could track Guidotti’s movements, the lawsuit alleges.

Guidotti’s demotion continued until this past spring, when Zappile retired and Walton took over as chief.

Meanwhile a federal grand jury had been investigating the lumber situation dating back to 2009, the complaint shows.

As “scuttlebutt” concerning the ongoing grand jury probe circulated around the PHA’s police department, the suit states, Walton “let his view of Commander Guidotti be known,” and both Walton and defendant Mitchell decided to create a pretext for firing Guidotti in the future.

“Over a three month period of time defendants Walton and Mitchell created a false dispute over whether PHA Police personnel in the police radio room were attentive to their duties or the subject of verbal abuse and whether Commander Guidotti complied with the Emergency Plan for Hurricane Sandy, which [was] conceived and implemented by Commander Guidotti,” the complaint reads.

Guidotti was ultimately terminated this past winter.

The lawsuit claims that the defendants violated the state’s Whistleblower Act when they fired the plaintiff, because they were aware of the District Attorney’s Office’s investigation when they began threatening, discriminating against and/or retaliating against Guidotti.

The defendants are also accused of suspending then demoting the plaintiff specifically because he provided information to the D.A.’s Office.

The defendants were also aware of an FBI investigation into theft of PHA property by agency employees at the time they initially suspended Guidotti from his commanding post, the complaint alleges.

In addition to the whistleblower claim, the lawsuit also contains counts of intentional infliction of emotional distress, civil conspiracy, and aiding and abetting.

Guidotti seeks more than $50,000 in damages, plus attorney’s fees, interest, costs and other court relief.

The case ID number is 130503000.

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