Wayne County jail that isn't: The heat is on

Seeking answers to how Wayne County jail project failed so miserably

By Rod Meloni - Reporter, CFP ®

DETROIT - The new Wayne County Jail project is a monument to mismanagement.

The problem is we still have no idea how the rusting hulk that accounts for $120 million in the ground and nearly $100 million in cost over-runs got this way. No one involved is willing to talk. The Building Authority says it was kept like a mushroom. County Commissioners say they were kept deeper in the dark and the one guy who can tell us what happened is under a gag order.

Wayne County Auditor General Willie Mayo won't breathe a word of the criminal wrongdoing we know he found because Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy threatened him with obstruction of justice charges and jail if he does.

The Wayne County Commission says it wants and needs some answers quicker than they are coming, so it is launching its own investigation into the construction project gone awry. The commission put out a press release Thursday announcing a four-member task force to do its own investigation; careful to point out it does not seek to duplicate or in any way impede Kym Worthy's criminal investigation. But more than anything it needs to know what went wrong and how for any number of reasons.

View: Press release on jail task force

First, just to know who is at fault; second, to see exactly how the project went off the rails in order to prevent similar situations in the future and more than anything make an informed decision about whether to sell the current jail site to Dan Gilbert or two other suitors and move the project out to the vacant state prison at Mound Road and Ryan on Detroit's East Side. That whole deal is far from a done deal.

This week the investor groups are showing their presentations to the committee overseeing the next [or more accurately described as recovery] phase of the new jail project. Gilbert and crew are going last and will present on Friday.

I have been told the two presentations offered so far are less than stellar. We will have to wait a week or two to see where this part of a sordid tale is all headed. But in the meantime the commission can assemble a timeline of activity using county records to get at least some answers to the most important and pertinent questions. You would expect this kind of action considering so little information is available at a time when the commission believes it needs to know the most.

The idea came about a week ago after Commission Chairman Gary Woronchak sent a letter to Kym Worthy protesting her gag order on Willie Mayo and asking her to step aside and release the audit report. After meeting with Woronchack, Worthy's office made it clear it wasn't interested in cooperating with the request. Woronchak wasn't interested in sitting back and waiting.

At the same time, Local 4 picked up an interesting and exclusive little nugget on Thursday regarding how this whole audit report gag order is playing out. The Wayne County Deputy Sheriff's Association, the union representing rank and file jail guards and road patrol officers, jumped into the fray in unusually bold fashion. President Brian Earle sent two letters lamenting the current situation, one to Wayne County Auditor General Willie Mayo and the other to Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette. Earle scolded Mayo for not immediately bringing his discovery of criminal wrongdoing to the proper authority as the law mandates. Mayo finished work on his audit and then brought his findings to Kym Worthy. Earle also said Mayo was mistaken in his decision to go to Worthy as she has a conflict of interest. She is investigating the very administration that approves her budget. Worthy has been in a pitched court battle with the administration and the county commission over her budget that has yet to be fully resolved. [She is about seven million dollars over budget at last count] Earle asked Mayo to bring his case to the Attorney General. Then Earle sent another letter to the Attorney General asking him to step into the case for the reasons stated in the Mayo letter.

View: 1st letter to Attorney General
View: 2nd letter to Attorney General

Kym Worthy's office told Local 4 Thursday night that the investigation into the jail project is still in the preliminary stages and since it is not complete there is no way of telling where the case will go or whether it is necessary to bring it to another investigating agency. Schuette's office did not return phone calls.

Local 4 has been told by sources that Worthy discussed the case with the FBI but we haven't heard whether the feds are at all interested in adding this seemingly never-ending saga to their other ongoing investigations into criminal wrongdoing at Wayne County.

Still, the pressure is building from all quarters to allow more details of this expensive, half-baked boondoggle out into the open. The jail that isn't sits rusting in the late summer sun. It's becoming obvious we won't have closure on this until the snow flies and probably beyond.

Stay with us, we'll bring you every twist and turn.

Read more: Wayne County jail project: full of fraud?

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