Detroit City Hall Raided in FBI Corruption Investigation

Detroit City Hall Raided in FBI Corruption Investigation

Once again, public officials in Michigan have been indicted for bribery and other serious charges.

Detroit was rocked by yet another corruption investigation on August 25, as the FBI raided Detroit City Hall and the homes of two City Council members. These raids were in connection with a towing scandal that has already left one Councilman facing federal criminal charges.

Public corruption is the FBI’s top criminal investigative priority,”  FBI Detroit Special Agent in Charge Timothy Waters said Aug. 25. Earlier today, special agents and task force officers … executed search warrants at Detroit City Hall and several other locations across metro Detroit.”

Waters said no more official information on the investigation will be released unless and until charges are filed, but the Detroit News reported that the FBI was focused on municipal towing operations and accusations that city officials received bribes.

Michigan is certainly no stranger to corruption. As the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, Matthew Schnieder, noted in 2019, Michigan files more corruption cases than other states. Every year for the last five years, every state brings about one corruption case per year,” Schneider said. In Michigan, its 18 cases a year, over the last five years.”

Although this corruption stretches across the state, Detroit is a primary locus. Over the past 20 years, three membersof the Detroit City Council have served prison time, and a fourth member, Kay Everett, faced felony charges but died before trial. Just this past June, Councilman Gabe Leland was sentenced to two-and-a-half years of probation after pleading guilty to felony misconduct in office related to illegal campaign contributions.

In 2013, former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was convicted of 24 charges related to racketeering committed during his tenure as mayor from 2002 to 2008. Kilpatrick was released from federal prison in January 2021 after his sentence was commuted by former President Donald Trump.

In the current corruption investigation, Councilman Andre Spivey has already been charged with accepting $35,000 in bribes that influenced and rewarded” him for votes concerning an industry under review by the council” (reportedly towing companies) between 2016 and 2020. Spivey is out on bond as he awaits trial.

Even before the present investigation, Detroits towing system had already faced federal scrutiny. Over the past four years alone, seven Detroit officials — a deputy police chief and six police officers — have been convicted of taking bribes to influence towing operations. One of the officers, Deonne Dotson, was sentenced in July to six and a half years in federal prison.

With the latest raids, more indictments could be on the horizon. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said this rampant corruption is evidence of a systemic problem with the citys method of awarding towing contracts. [T]his stems from a decision in 2011-2012 not to competitively bid the towing in this town,” Duggan said, but to create a permit system with a preferential group of people in a rotation that people dont fully understand.”

In Michigan, official misconduct doesnt necessarily bar a politician from receiving a pension. For instance, Detroit City Council Member Lonnie Bates still received a $24,392 annual pension for years after being found guilty of fraud for offering city jobs to friends who did little work. In 2017, Gov. Rick Snydner signed into law a process to stop public employees from receiving pensions after being convicted of a felony that breaches the public trust. However, a March 2021 investigation by WXYZ Detroit found the law is rarely invoked, and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel was not even aware that the law existed. Until you brought this to my attention, it wasnt something that I had thought of,” Nessel said. And thats on me as an elected official. I should be familiar with the law.” For now, Michigan taxpayers remain on the hook for pensions for officials who have engaged in crimes like bribery and extortion.

At the state level, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer campaigned in 2018 on the promise of making the government in Lansing more transparent and accountable. Her 10-part Sunshine Plan” noted that Michigan is now dead last in the nation for state ethics and transparency laws,” a problem she blamed primarily on Snyder and other state Republicans. Yet Whitmer has largely continued the same practices she previously decried, such as remaining closed to public records requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

If leaders in Detroit and elsewhere in Michigan wish to restore public trust in government, it is crucial that Michigan improve its culture of transparency, accountability, and integrity in public officials.

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