Wayne County jail project: full of fraud?


DETROIT – One of the more remarkable parts of the numerous twists and turns regarding Wayne County's new jail construction project is the utter lack of accountability.

It goes nearly $100 million over budget, construction stops, the construction contract gets torn up and yet taxpayers who paid for this disaster receive no explanation as to how it went so badly off the rails. There was nary any discussion of who is at fault. All we heard from Wayne County Executive Bob Ficano was he is not so proud to change course when something doesn't work. He spoke only of how it is best to move on, sell the current jail project [$120 million already in the ground] and move the whole mess out to the State's vacant Mound Road Correctional Facility near Ryan.

More: Where's report on failed Wayne County jail?

The Governor's Office offered similarly upbeat assessments of turning this bowl of lemons into a pitcher of lemonade. The Wayne County Building Authority, at its meeting last week, similarly seemed interested in moving forward, finding a way out of the mess, all the while bending over backwards to look forward. There was next to no desire on anyone's part to discuss the elephant in the room; troubling questions of whether someone got paid who shouldn't have? Who is at fault? Should someone go to jail? There's a reason for that, it's embarrassing to say the least and no one wants to be standing when the music stops in this taxpayer funded game of possibly fraudulent musical chairs.

View: Consolidated Jail Facility Agreement

It certainly seems unimaginable that a government funded construction project that goes millions of dollars over budget would get there crime free. For instance, in 2011 Jefferson County, Alabama [where the city of Birmingham sits] found itself filing the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history before Detroit filed. A sewer system upgrade went $2 BILLION over budget. As a result nearly two dozen government officials ended up carted off to jail. Here in Wayne County the numbers for the Wayne County Jail project are not as vast, but the concerns regarding criminal wrongdoing are just as large.

This we have learned tonight because a report on the subject we were eagerly awaiting will not be forthcoming. Wayne County Auditor General Willie Mayo and his staff have spent the last several months pouring through the County's contracts, change orders, receipts and pathways of payment they found in county jail project records. Mayo's report sources tell local four is 150 pages long with numerous findings of criminal behavior.

Tonight it remains locked, loaded and ready to go. It was supposed to be passed along to the Wayne County Audit Committee this week. Alas we will not receive Mayo's long awaited findings because Prosecutor Kym Worthy, who received Mayo's report last week, told him to hold off and not to release it. The reason: his findings give her reason to conduct her own investigation into the jail's construction and eventual abandonment. She told Mayo she is going to use the Wayne County Fraud and Corruption Investigation Unit to dig into the project to find out exactly who is at fault, to get better picture of who might have been paid who wasn't supposed to and whether they should go to jail. But in order for that process to play out she advised Mayo not to publish his report for fear it might jeopardize her probe. So, while we've waited a very long time already to figure out if fraud was at play at the corner of At. Antoine and Gratiot, we will have to wait a good deal longer.

Detroit Crime Commission CEO and former Detroit FBI Director Andy Arena told Local 4 this afternoon "a lot of this is going to be records, contracts, how was the money spent, what money wasn't spent, so it's going to be pretty in depth I would think."

Hovering over this situation is another larger question. The FBI made quite the show in December 2011 of handing out subpoenas in the Guardian Building where the County and Bob Ficano's offices reside. We know they are doing a deep dive into all things allegedly corrupt in Wayne County. So far a handful of Ficano underlings have found themselves in federal court trials or plea deals. They are expecting to find out their sentences next month. Is the federal government looking into this jail project too?

Arena says if they are it is likely they will meet with Kym Worthy to discuss whether they should take over this investigation or leave it to the locals. Arena says you don't want to do these investigations twice. So, might Worthy hand off this case? It's not anything the prosecutor's office was willing to discuss today and the feds are always tight lipped about these matters. Needless to say there is considerable smoke as the jail projects sits baking in the summer sun.

We're likely going to have to wait until the snow flies to find out if there is any fire that might spawn criminal charges. Stay tuned!

About the Author: