Ex-Detroit court clerk, man accused of taking bribes
Detroit — Two Detroit residents, including a former court clerk, have been arrested and arraigned on charges accusing them of accepting $20,000 in bribes to dismiss more than $40,000 in traffic tickets and fines.
Former 36th District Court clerk Annette Bates, 56, and alleged co-conspirator Charles Fair, 44, were taken into custody after a joint investigation by the FBI’s Public Corruption Task Force and Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office.
During a two-year period, Fair — who was not employed at the court — and Bates allegedly forged the dismissal of $40,000 in traffic tickets, fines and citations in the name of 36th District Court judges without the judges’ knowledge.
Bates and Fair allegedly accepted $20,000 in bribes to dismiss the traffic charges. The scheme allegedly occurred between October 2010 and January 2013.
“Individuals with a blatant disregard for the law must realize there are consequences,” Schuette said in a statement Tuesday. “Stealing from Detroit’s traffic citation funds is stealing from not just the city coffers, but stealing from those who are working hard to continue turning Detroit around.”
Authorities said Fair would funnel dismissal requests to Bates who would then dismiss the tickets from the record with each taking a cut of the fee. No other details on how the alleged scheme was perpetrated were released Tuesday.
In some instances, the bogus dismissals would allow drivers with suspended licenses to regain their operator’s permits.
The announcement of the charges comes more than two years after the formerly-troubled city court continues to right itself as a result of reforms put into place beginning in May 2013 to address concerns about mismanagement, poor customer service, a bloated payroll and a $5 million budget deficit.
A state-sanctioned report found the court had failed to collect on $200 million in traffic, parking and other fines. The court also had a backlog of about 500,000 cases a year, according to a 2013 report by the National Center for State Courts.
Court officials said they will continue to work with Schuette’s office to “bring former or current court staff suspected of wrongdoing to justice.”
In a press statement Tuesday, 36th District Court Chief Judge Nancy M. Blount said: “Acts of this nature allegedly committed by employees erode public trust and confidence in the court, our justice system partners and the public we serve. ... The court will continue to report all suspected fraudulent actions to the local, state and federal authorities for investigation and prosecution to the fullest extent of the law.”
The court’s administrator, Kelli Moore Owen, added: “Processes and procedures are continually being reviewed and re-engineered as part of the court’s restructuring under the new administration led by Chief Judge Blount. We are committed to restoring this court’s reputation.”
University of Detroit Mercy law school professor Lawrence Dubin said, generally, in such cases it would be the prosecutor’s discretion whether to charge those people who had their tickets or fines fixed.
“There is a crime for giving a bribe to a public officer,” Dubin said Tuesday. “Where this may have occurred, in many instances the prosecutor may prefer using those individuals who gave bribes to be witnesses rather than be criminally charged.”
“We place a high priority on public corruption investigations, whether at the local, state, or federal level,” David Gelios, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Detroit Division, said in a statement. “I’m very pleased that this joint effort with the Michigan attorney general’s office brought two individuals who abused the public’s trust to justice.”
Bates and Fair were arraigned Monday in 36th District Court before Magistrate Dawn White on two counts each of forgery.
The two each received a personal recognizance bond of $5,000. A probable cause hearing for Bates and Fair is set for Dec. 7 with a preliminary exam set for Dec. 14. Both will be held in the 36th District Court.
Conviction on each count is punishable by up to 14 years in prison.
Detroit News Staff Writer Oralandar Brand-Williams contributed.