Another land bank employee departs amid probe

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — Days after the resignation of the land bank’s demolition program director, the authority is confirming the exit of another employee who had held a prominent role in the federally funded blight reduction effort.

Craig Fahle, a spokesman for the Detroit Land Bank Authority, confirmed Tuesday that Martha Delgado, a compliance manager for the demolition program, left the land bank on Friday. He declined to discuss the circumstances surrounding her departure, saying he “won’t comment on personnel matters.”

The land bank is being looked at as part of a federal criminal investigation into the city’s demolition program, one of several ongoing federal, state and local reviews. The land bank oversees the effort along with the Detroit Building Authority.

Delgado’s name surfaced in November after it was revealed through an information request to the land bank that a couple of contractors involved in the demolition program had been asked to sign affidavits stating they’d been asked to rebalance some bid sheets by a former employee of the Detroit Building Authority.

One of the companies, Able Demolition, told The Detroit News that Delgado had asked the firm to sign an affidavit. Able Demolition, however, was never presented with anything and didn’t sign.

But an affidavit signed by a separate firm, Direct Construction Services LLC, came to light in the fall just after the land bank released an audit that revealed excessive demolition costs had been hidden by spreading them over hundreds of properties to appear they didn’t exceed limits set by the state.

Timothy Drakeford, a senior member of Direct Services, in a Sept. 28 affidavit wrote he was asked in December 2015 by Aradondo Haskins, an ex-building authority field operations manager, to revise the bid sheets. Haskins left the building authority last year.

Drakeford signed the affidavit a couple days after a demolition coordinator with Able Demolition confirmed to Delgado in an email that Haskins had asked the firm to revise contracts to meet the $22,500 threshold and they’d be willing to sign an affidavit. Able Demolition did not shift any costs and its contracts were not flagged in the audit.

The independent audit was commissioned by the land bank over the summer and turned up about a dozen contracts with potential ineligible costs totaling $824,491.56. The review was released amid ongoing federal, state and city reviews of the program which came under scrutiny in the fall of 2015 over bidding concerns and soaring costs.

The review turned up mistakes over a nine-month period between June 2015 and February, including inadequate record keeping and about $1 million improperly billed to the state.

Erica Ward Gerson, who chairs the land bank, has said the practice of shifting funds, which kept each property under a required $25,000 cap, was authorized within the city program by a “rogue employee,” whom she has declined to name. None of the mistakes resulted in contractors receiving extra money, Gerson has stressed.

The land bank formerly noted that it did not have any affidavits or agreements sent or drafted by Delgado or that she’d asked any demolition contractor to sign. The land bank did, however, have the single affidavit signed by Drakeford that Delgado maintained she “did not send, draft or request.”

Delgado had been reassigned within the land bank and was no longer working on demolitions before her Friday departure. She could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Separately, the land bank in a news release Friday announced a new director for its demolition program after the current program head, Pura Bascos, stepped down. Her resignation is effective Feb. 4 and comes after top-ranking land bank official Jim Wright abruptly resigned last August.

During a Tuesday board meeting, Land Bank Executive Director Carrie Lewand-Monore noted Bascos, who was in attendance, was leaving to return to her family in New Orleans.

Replacing Bascos is Rebecca Camargo, a former Wayne County prosecutor who has worked with the land bank since 2014. Camargo said Tuesday she joined the land bank to assist with its nuisance abatement and drug house programs, and has been assisting Bascos with legal aspects of the demolition program for several months.

The land bank also has named Daphyene Hatcher, a former court administrator for 33rd District Court in Woodhaven and an assistant to the administrator of Detroit’s 36th District Court, as its new demolition compliance manager. She starts next month.

The land bank last month released copies of subpoenas received in the spring from the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program. The subpoenas requested documents from more than two dozen employees pertaining to federally funded contracts and several demolition contractors.

Bascos and Delgado were among 14 current and former employees listed on the subpoena that sought voicemail communications and records.