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Michigan Legislator, Community Calls for Investigator of Wayne County Executive

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By Zenobia Jeffries, Special to the NNPA from The Michigan Citizen –

DETROIT — Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano and his administration will not only be investigated by the FBI, but the county executive and three of his officials may have their law licenses revoked.

On Oct. 19, Attorney Leland McRae, on behalf of State Rep. John Olumba, filed complaints with the Attorney Grievance Commission to investigate Ficano, former County Director of Economic and Neighborhood Development Turkia Mullin, former deputy County Executive Azzam Elder and former County Assistant Corporate Counsel Chief Marianne Talon. The four have been accused of professional misconduct and failure to report professional misconduct. Mullin has additionally been accused of prohibited conflict of interest.

At issue is a $200,000 severance payout to Mullin, which many believe is unethical if not illegal. Reacting to community outrage and allegations of misappropriation of county funds, Ficano suspended Elder and Talon for 30 days without pay.

Yet, this may only be the beginning for county executive Ficano and his administration.

Last week, Olumba sent a letter to Attorney General Bill Schutte requesting an investigation into Mullin’s severance pay and other allegations of corruption at the County’s office.

The AG responded to Olumba’s request with a prepared media statement, stating he would allow the Prosecuting Attorneys Coordinating Council (PACC) to carry out an investigation.

Olumba says the council is a “body with no teeth.”

“They have no power to delegate to any prosecuting body,” said Olumba, who submitted a resolution to the House Oversight, Reform and Ethics Committee requesting the Attorney General begin investigation of the Wayne County Executive and “other entities related to the severance payment scandal.”

During the Oct. 18 hearing, Olumba testified that the law “unequivocally” states that the council carries none of the sovereign powers of the state. Olumba said that power rests with the attorney general.

Tom Robertson, PACC’s CEO, confirmed the council does not have legal powers; it simply finds a prosecutor to take a case at the request of the AG.

“If we find somebody to agree, then the Attorney General decides if they want to assign a prosecutor to investigate,” Robertson said.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy cited a conflict of interest in the case and filed a petition with the AG’s office.

The AG has stated, in news reports, that the FBI is conducting an investigation.

FBI spokesperson Sandra Berchtold, in accordance with bureau policy, could not confirm or deny a federal investigation. As this paper went to press, the FBI served subpoeanas to Wayne County officials.

Olumba says once the resolution is passed, the AG doesn’t have a choice but to investigate. The investigations can be simultaneous.

The committee, chaired by Tim McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, postponed voting on the resolution until they received clarity of the PACC’s role and powers.

Internal investigation

Wayne County Commissioner Chairman Gary Woronchak, who leads the committee investigating the Mullins scandal, says Ficano’s office is cooperating with the committee’s requests and denied rumors they will issue a subpoena for documents.

“I’m hopeful in a couple of weeks we’ll have some remedies before us,” said Woronchak. “We’ll know the more questions we ask.”

Regarding other entities conducting investigations, Woronchak says each agency has a different role.

“My goal is to find out how this happened and to keep it from happening,” he said in a telephone interview. “The more people who look at [this] is fine with me.”

Woronchak says the commission needs to consider ordinance changes and submit laws “so that this cannot happen again. We want to get focus back on providing services [to citizens].”

When asked if the commission finds there was illegal action on behalf of the county executive he said, “I don’t know if we’re in the position to determine what’s legal or not. I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. I wouldn’t make a leap to that point right now.”

Community outrage

What’s good enough for Kilpatrick is good enough for Ficano, was the message a group of Detroit protestors sent as they marched Oct. 17 outside of the Guardian Building, where the county executive’s office is located.

“We don’t want anybody who is unethical,” said community activist Sandra Hines, on behalf of the newly formed Coalition Against Corruption in Wayne County Government (CACWCG).

“He’s already apologized so evidently he did something wrong,” she said. “If he didn’t …why would he apologize?”

During a press conference called by the CACWCG, Hines declared, “the people are outraged …We want transparency.”

The group of about 50 citizens and growing is calling for the Oversight, Reform, and Ethics committee to approve Olumba’s resolution; Elder and Talon’s permanent termination; Mullin’s termination from her new position as Wayne County Airport Authority CEO, and the termination of Ficano’s appointee Michael Grundy; along with an independent investigation into the Office of Wayne County Executive, and other entities involved in the severance payment scandal.

“The community will no longer accept Ficano’s misuse of the people’s money,” Hines said. “This is about accountability and responsibility.”

Detroit Delegation responds

Responding to criticisms of being self-serving and disloyal, Olumba told the Michigan Citizen that he was acting at the behest of his constituency. Olumba was accused by several Democrats of breaking party ranks to end Ficano’s Democratic administration. Olumba said he called for an investigation because it was the right thing to do for the citizens.

“I’ve received hundreds of calls and e-mails [from across the state],” he said. “There’s no representative that I’ve seen serve with vigor on behalf of the people from around this area … I think this situation shows that. Here’s a man stealing money and they can’t ask for a simple investigation?”

Lisa Brown (D-West Bloomfield) was the only legislator to support Olumba’s resolution.

In a telephone interview, Rep. David Nathan (D-Detroit) said it’s not unusual that there are no supporters of a resolution that goes before a committee. He says support usually comes when the resolution comes out of committee.

“If the resolution comes out of committee, I’ll support it,” he said.

Lisa Howze ( D-Detroit) says any action on the part of the state would be premature.

She says she doesn’t think the resolution will come out of committee and therefore makes the state’s involvement a moot point.

 

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