Contractor in trouble after illegal dumping found in Detroit

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News
Den-Man Contractors was put under investigation by the city's Office of Inspector General and deemed ineligible to tear down 195 homes, costing it $3.3 million, after a resident complained that dirt was dumped on her property on April 21 on Kendall Street.

Detroit — A contractor in the city's demolition program is being held responsible after its subcontractor was accused of illegally dumping on a residential property, city officials say.

Den-Man Contractors of Warren was put under investigation by the city's Office of Inspector General and deemed ineligible to tear down 195 homes, costing it $3.3 million, after a resident complained that dirt was dumped on her property on April 21.

According to the Detroit Building Authority, Den-Man at first denied responsibility and the matter was sent to Detroit police, who produced text messages showing communication between Den-Man and its subcontractor, Dani's Transport, that called for "six loads" to be dropped to a property on the 3700 block of Kendall Street on the city's west side. 

This text message, between a Den-Man official and an employee of Dani's Transport, was obtained by Detroit police before being sent to the Office of Inspector General, according to the Detroit Building Authority.

Den-Man paid to remove the dumped materials and restore the Kendall property, Detroit Building Authority Special Projects Director Brian Farkas said on Wednesday.

"We take illegal dumping extremely seriously," Farkas said. "Illegal dumping triggered a referral to the OIG."

Performance issues with the company have since been remedied, Farkas said, and Den-Man is back in business with the demolition program.

Kamau Marable, the city's deputy inspector general, confirmed there still is an open investigation into Den-Man stemming from a complaint filed around May 12. He would not comment further.

Den-Man is responsible for the work of its subcontractors, according to the building authority.

In a statement issued Wednesday, David Holman of Den-Man Contractors said the "real story" is that non-contaminated dirt was dumped at the wrong address in error by subcontractor Dani’s Transport on a wrong day.

Holman also contradicted the building authority's determination that Den-Man was involved in the decision to dump on Kendall.

"On Saturday April 21st with no direction from Den-Man Contractors, Dani’s Transport elected to dump at their own discretion at (the house on) Kendall. We were not working on Saturday April 21st and had no knowledge that Dani’s Transport was dumping dirt on this day," Holman said in a statement.

"Once Den-Man was made aware we worked diligently to rectify the situation. Den-Man Contractors and Dani’s Transport worked together to clean it up and restore the property; despite the fact that Dani’s Transport perpetrated the act."

Holman said Den-Man re-entered the city’s demolition program less than one year ago it has successfully completed 421 demolition projects for the City of Detroit or related agencies.

"The term 'illegal dumping' is a broad statement and one that evokes an emotional response," he said. "In this case, it was clean dirt intended to be used at (one home on) Kendall that was mistakenly dumped at (another home on) Kendall without our knowledge or permission."

Rebecca A. Camargo, an attorney for Den-Man, said the text obtained during the Detroit police investigation does not prove that Den-Man approved or directed the dumping because Den-Man always requires a confirmation be sent before a drop is made.

"Den-Man would give out several addresses of where they needed dirt for and confirm when they actually needed it. They don't work on Saturdays, and that's when they did this," Camargo said. "Dani's knows it is supposed to wait for a confirmation."

A representative from Dani's was not immediately available to comment.

The demolition program, which is overseen by the building authority and the Detroit Land Bank, has been under scrutiny for other work done in the past.

It's also been the focus of state, local and federal reviews after concerns were raised in fall 2015 over bidding practices and spiraling costs.

In May, The Detroit News reported that one of Detroit’s largest demolition contractors mistakenly tore down a house it wasn’t contracted to demolish.

City officials said a construction crew from Detroit-based Adamo Group informed the building authority that it has mistakenly knocked down a land bank-owned house at 5792 Holcomb, that according to records, hadn’t yet been abated for asbestos, rather than the neighboring property it had been contracted to tear down.

Several other contractors in the program faced suspensions last summer amid claims they doctored photographs of sidewalks to obtain payment for work they had not done.

Those cases emerged from an investigation conducted by the city’s Office of Inspector General after the Detroit Land Bank Authority raised concerns.

The city has taken down more than 14,000 blighted houses since spring 2014 under a program primarily funded with federal Hardest Hit Funds.