Former Detroit demolition boss gives key clues in FBI's Land Bank investigation

Jim Wright testifies under oath

DETROIT – A former Detroit demolition boss who suddenly resigned after the FBI swooped in to investigate is going under oath to provide key clues in the investigation.

Jim Wright served as deputy director of the Detroit Building Authority. In that position, he directed millions of dollars in demolition contracts and key decisions.

But thanks to an unrelated case, Wright had to testify under oath about his time on the job and the FBI investigation surrounding it.

It's rare for the public to find out who or what the FBI is looking at in a federal investigation, but because Wright was under oath, he had to answer honestly when questions came up about Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and the city's demolition program.

Wright suddenly resigned in August 2016 as the FBI began investigating the city's program to hear down buildings. Last month, Wright was deposed in a civil suit filed by businessman Robert Carmack over the demolition of property.

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In the deposition, Wright was asked about the FBI's investigation into Detroit's demolition program.

"Have you ever been interviewed by an FBI agent regarding the Detroit Building Authority?" Wright was asked.

"Not the Building Authority, the Land Bank, yes," Wright said.

"Do you know what was discussed?" Wright was asked.

"There was interest in various contracts and trying to understand the Building Authority and Land Bank process for demolition in the city," Wright said.

Last May, the Local 4 Defenders uncovered a copy of the city's own audit of the program. In it were troubling trends, including questionable billings, evidence of no-bid contracts, price manipulation, inflating invoices and evidence of bid rigging and collusion.

In the deposition, Wright testified that the FBI subpoenaed him to turn over emails and documents related to demolition.

"I gave them everything I had -- various emails," Wright said.

He was questioned about some of the same issues in the audit.

The sworn testimony offered a rare glimpse into the FBI investigation.

"When you were interviewed by the FBI, did they ask you about Mayor Duggan?" Wright was asked.

"I think it came up in the conversation," Wright said.

"What did they ask you?" Wright was asked.

"I don't remember actual questions," Wright said. "I believe it was based on meetings that were had at the Land Bank."

City officials have been cooperating fully with the federal investigation and addressed all issues raised in the audit. As a result, the federal government released more than $100 million for demolition in the city.

While the FBI has been actively interviewing city contractors and the former administrator, not a single criminal charge has resulted in more than two years of investigating.

The U.S. attorney's office had no comment on the demolition investigation.

The mayor's office released the following statement:

"The fact that Jim Wright would have been asked about the Mayor means nothing. As a matter of course, any professional investigator would ask a witness about interactions with everyone involved in every aspect of demolition, in order to determine what occurred. There is no indication any witness ever suggested the Mayor did anything wrong."

About the Authors:

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.