Rod Meloni: Flying, tethers and golf, oh my!

Taking closer look at Wayne County Sheriff deputy's trip on tether contractor's dollar

By Rod Meloni - Reporter, CFP ®
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DETROIT - As Local 4 has shown over the past few weeks, the Wayne County Sheriff's Office has an interesting view on how to spend tax dollars.

We exposed how a "community outreach" program Sheriff Benny Napoleon spent $200,000 a year on came from a Wayne County Community College security contract. The sheriff thought it was a great opportunity to put two appointees at the cost of $150,000 [of money the school paid the Sheriff's Office for police patrols] to do public relations for the Sheriff's Department. But that was just the beginning. The sheriff also gave a $50,000 contract to Inkster Mayor Hilliard Hampton's security company to help with that same "community outreach."

What makes that remarkable is Hampton is Sheriff Napoleon's brother's employer. Hilton Napoleon is Inkster's Police Chief. When Wayne County first entered into that contract with the Community College under Sheriff Warren Evans seven officers patrolled the school's three locations. Under Napoleon it's down to two and a half along with the appointees and friends.

Read more: Wayne County Sheriff's tether program under ethics microscope

But then it came to Local 4's attention Wayne County Sheriff Lt. Dennis Ramel was going to do a speaking engagement out of town. Most often a speaking engagement is good publicity and not particularly noteworthy. But we decided to take a closer look. We found Lt. Ramel would speak at SCRAMcon 2013; an event sponsored by the company that supplies transdermal tethers to the Wayne County Sheriff's Department. Even then we weren't certain there was much to worry about here.

But then, on closer inspection, we discovered the lieutenant is the guy inside the Wayne County Sheriff's Office who decides which tethers the county will use when it puts felons on house arrest. He also helps decide which companies will be used for this $1.2 million contract. Currently the company that manufactures the SCRAM tether, Alcohol Monitoring Systems, is one of four vendors on that contract. Another is an Eastpointe tether company called House Arrest Services that actually provides the tethers to the Wayne County Sheriff's Office.

Ramel did his appearance at SCRAMcon 2013 on Saturday, June 1. After his appearance in Colorado we went to work trying to find out details of his junket and who paid the freight. Local 4 found House Arrest provided his plane ticket out and back. Ramel spent three days in Englewood, Colorado at the Inverness Hotel and Convention Center. He enjoyed himself to free food, lodging and the resort's specialty: golf. This we know because his scramble team [which also consisted of House Arrest's CEO] came in second place in the event's golf scramble. SCRAMcon 2013 published that fact on its website.

Local 4 has learned Alcohol Monitoring Systems paid for Lt. Ramel's food and lodging at the resort where it spent just under $200 a night for the hotel room. It also paid for his $95 golf round. Also fitted in to the Colorado resort experience was a trip to the tether manufacturer's assembly plant. We shot video tape of the Lieutenant's one hour long appearance.

The Sheriff's Office is under the impression Local 4 thinks the tether program is a bad idea and published the following press release Tuesday night to try to preempt our story:

Read: Wayne County's press release on tether program

That is not the case. What is of concern here is the ethical implication of vendors wining and dining a decision maker on a million dollar contract.

Once again, Lt. Ramel decides for the Sheriff's Office what the best equipment is and has input on which companies can get in on the county's cash. The questions raised by the County Commission at a public safety committee meeting Wednesday surrounded whether this is a conflict of interest. One commissioner asked its legal counsel if it posed an ethical problem, there was no answer and we are still waiting. But what Local 4 has gone on to discover an even more troubling development. Why June 1 for the lieutenant's trip? Could it be that House Arrest and Alcohol Monitoring are hoping to get in on more Wayne County cash? You see, the Sheriff's Office is looking to hire a tether company to take over its tether monitoring program to try and save some money. Sounds like a good idea.

But Local 4 is in possession of the list of names of the companies that are bidding on this contract. Lo and behold, House Arrest and Alcohol Monitoring are right there looking to get in on the action. So they wine and dine the decision maker and no one seems to be able to figure out whether there is a conflict of interest?

No doubt the Wayne County Sheriff's Office has an interesting way of looking at spending tax dollars.

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