Philadelphia sheriff taps controversial defense lawyer to be undersheriff

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Philadelphia sheriff taps controversial defense lawyer to be undersheriff

Tariq El-Shabazz, a former high-profile criminal defense attorney from Philadelphia with a controversial past, was hired as a legal advisor to Sheriff Rochelle Bilal’s office earlier this year. This week the sheriff sent an internal memo to their staff to officially introduce El-Shabazz as the new undersheriff.

This is the proxy in an office with more than 400 employees and a budget of more than $ 26 million. Its main job is bringing prisoners to justice, maintaining security in six courthouse buildings, and selling properties that are foreclosed due to unpaid taxes or mortgages.

El-Shabazz replaces former undersheriff Curtis Douglas, who retired earlier this month shortly after it was revealed the office had entered into an illegal six-year contract with Bid4Assets, a Maryland-based online real estate auction company.

“As an undersheriff, he will advise the sheriff and his deputies on legal process, its policies, procedures, implications, as well as the criminal and civil justice systems and their relationship with the sheriff’s office operations,” wrote Bilal in the memo. A copy of this was obtained from The Inquirer.

“He will also oversee sheriff sales to ensure that all rules, regulations and laws are being followed,” added Bilal, referring to one of the bureau’s roles, which has historically been corrupt and related to the arrest of the former sheriff John Green led, convicted and sent to jail.

Shabazz, who was hired as the first assistant district attorney by DA Seth Williams in 2016, did not respond to an email asking for comment. Teresa Lundy, a spokeswoman for the office, also did not answer questions via email.

Shabazz brings over 30 years of legal experience to his new role as well as a history of tax and financial problems.

In 2017, after The Inquirer announced its run for DA, he reported filing $ 190,712 in federal, state, and city tax liens judgments against him in the Common Pleas Court.

“I can tell you there is a payment schedule with the IRS tax liens,” he said at the time. “I can tell you that we are working to pay off all the debts I have.”

City records also showed that El-Shabazz’s former law firm, El-Shabazz & Harris, was sued six times from 2008 to 2016 for lack of rent in its former offices in the Land Title Building on South Broad Street. Ironically, the Sheriff’s Office headquarters are in the same building.

A judge ruled the company for $ 37,572 in May 2016, while the company was also ruled for $ 30,328 in 2015. $ 27,978 in 2012; and $ 24,752 in 2009, the records showed.

Since taking over in January 2020, Bilal has been accused of wrongdoing by former employees who are now suing her.

Sommer Miller, Bilal’s former undersheriff before Douglas, and Anitra Paris, former human resources manager, have each filed whistleblower lawsuits in federal court in recent weeks, while Brett Mandel, former CFO, filed a similar lawsuit in a state court last year. He was fired for questioning Bilal’s use of “off-budget” spending that bypassed the city’s budgeting process.