Detroit— A former high-ranking Wayne County official was sentenced Friday to nearly five years in prison by a federal judge for taking almost $70,000 in bribes from a contractor with the county.
Tahir Kazmi, former chief information officer for the county, was the first person charged in 2012 in connection with an ongoing, wide-ranging corruption probe of Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano’s administration. The investigation has led to several guilty pleas and prison sentences for two people.
Kazmi, a 50-year-old former Rochester Hills resident, also must pay $15,000 in fines and will be on supervised release for three years once he has served his term. No date was given on when Kazmi will report to the Bureau of Prisons to begin serving his 57-month sentence.
In handing down the sentence, U.S. District Judge Stephen Murphy said while Kazmi has “obvious remorse” and did perform well at his top-level job, he violated the public’s trust by taking bribes.
“We look to our leaders for leadership,” the judge said. “Mr. Kazmi had the ability to show leadership and he chose, perhaps stupidly, not to honor that.”
Before sentencing, Kazmi and his attorney, Laurence Burgess, asked the judge for leniency.
Burgess said Kazmi has fully cooperated with federal investigators in their continuing probe. Burgess also added that his client “did not force or coerce” the man federal prosecutors said he took bribes from.
“It’s not what happened,” said Burgess on Friday. “Mr. Kazmi and (Philip Shisha) were friends. They looked into going into business together. Mr. Shisha is not being truthful.”
Kazmi, who read from notes, cried at times as he commented on the case against him and prison time.
“I’m very ashamed for what I’ve done,” said Kazmi. “I have caused a lot of pain for my family. I’m not worried about myself. If I could only go back in time and correct my actions I would do so in a heartbeat.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Gardey, who had sought a “significant” prison sentence, said Friday that Kazmi “had not been truthful” about his wrongdoing and even tried to cover it up.
“This was long standing and extensive bribery,” said Gardey.
Kazmi pleaded guilty in July 2012 and agreed to cooperate with the government.
Gardey did not request a specific sentence in the court filing.
“The punishment of the court should send a clear message to other public officials that such conduct cannot and will not be tolerated,” Gardey wrote. “This case is another important instance of the need to deter public officials in southeastern Michigan from breaking the law and taking advantage of their public offices in order to personally enrich themselves.”
In pleading guilty, Kazmi admitted to pocketing cash and accepting free trips and other gifts from Shisha, managing partner of an information technology company called Strategic Business Partners. In return, Kazmi gave the contractor preferential treatment on county jobs.
Shisha’s Detroit company has received more than $26 million in county contracts over the last 10 years. He is one of the largest donors to Ficano’s political action committee. Shisha gave it $20,000 in 2011, records show.
Shisha testified last year he paid Kazmi thousands on a regular basis because he was afraid Kazmi would withhold payments or cancel multimillion-dollar county contracts.
Shisha also testified Kazmi was abusive and often belittled him. He made the payments of $8,000 or more monthly, at times, often leaving the cash in an envelope on a drawer in the library of Kazmi’s house.