Ex-Highland Park manager Art Blackwell takes plea deal ahead of trial

Blackwell pleads no contest to misdemeanor, originally charged with embezzlement

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HIGHLAND PARK, Mich. - Former Highland Park Emergency Manager Art Blackwell has opted to take a plea deal ahead of going to trial on embezzlement and misconduct charges.

Blackwell has pleaded no contest to a charge of public money safe keeping -- a misdemeanor -- which means he misused funds he was entrusted with managing.

The trial for Blackwell, who was accused of raking in $264,000 that wasn't authorized or part of his contract, had been slated to begin in May.

He's now scheduled to be sentenced on April 16.

Blackwell was appointed by then Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm in April 2005 to bring the city out of financial trouble. He promised to work for the cash-strapped city for $1 a year.

But according to papers filed in a taxpayer lawsuit, in 2008 Blackwell's contract was renegotiated for an $11,000 per month salary.

The prosecutor's office's said the Michigan Department of Treasury conducted an audit and concluded that Blackwell was fully compensated for his services when he received $110,000 from April 2008 until his termination from the position in April 2009.

But Blackwell is also accused of writing himself a check from the city of Highland Park for the same services.

Blackwell has said Granholm personally approved the decision to change his pay from $1 per year to $11,000 per month.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said Blackwell paid himself $264,000 more in checks written from city funding. At the time, Highland Park was facing a $16 million deficit.

Charges dismissed, then reinstated

Judge Cynthia Gray Hathaway in January 2011overturned a ruling that found there was probable cause to hold a trial for Blackwell.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy appealed the decision, and the Court of Appeals reinstated the charges.

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