Contractors allegedly submitted altered sidewalk photos in Detroit demolitions

By John Steckroth - Editor
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Photograph on left was submitted by Rickman Enterprise Group. Photograph on right was taken by a field liason.

DETROIT - Two contractors for the city’s demolition program were suspended after investigations into manipulation of photographs of sidewalks at demolition sites.

The City of Detroit’s Office of Inspector General received a complaint from the Detroit Land Bank Authority about Direct Construction Services on Dec. 1, 2016. They received a complaint about Rickman Enterprise Group the next day.

Contractors are required to take before and after photographs of sidewalks, drive approaches and all surrounding areas to document existing conditions. The contractors are responsible for repair or replacement of sidewalks damaged during demolition. Contractors do not receive payment until all proper documentation is submitted.

Both groups are accused of submitting several falsified photographs of the sidewalks. Local 4 obtained photographs of 8248 Marlowe Street and of 134 West Savannah Street.

The property on Marlowe Street was handled by Direct Construction Services. The property on West Savannah Street was handled by Rickman Enterprise Group.

The Detroit Land Bank Authority suspected the photographs depicting sidewalks for a number of properties had been altered and sent field liaisons to inspect the current condition of the sidewalks.

The report from the Office of Inspector General details the problems with the photograph of the sidewalk on Marlowe Street stating, “this photo has unusual grey brush strokes on the sidewalk, green brush strokes (added in) to resemble grass, and the sidewalk lacks dimension, shadow and appears unusual in geometry.”

The photographs were analyzed and the metadata showed that the picture from Marlowe Street was last edited or processed using Adobe Photoshop CS5 Macintosh.

The report from the Office of Inspector General details the problems with the photograph of the sidewalk on West Savannah Street stating, “the photograph had two sidewalk flags that appeared to be identical and oversized.”

CEO Roderick Rickman was interviewed by authorities. He said he didn’t believe the photograph was altered and that the flags in question were “merely raised or elevated.” A little over a month later, Rickman’s attorney said that after an internal review, the photograph was found to be doctored and was created by a Rickman employee as an “inside joke” but was “inadvertently uploaded. The attorney argued that the alterations were so poorly done that it would be absurd to think the photograph is “anything but a gimmick.”

The Office of Inspector General ended its report with a recommendation to the Detroit Land Bank Authority not to do business with Direct Construction Services and to sanction Rickman Enterprise Group.

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