Detroit inspector general probes claims mayor, city abused power in support of birth program

Sarah Rahal Mark Hicks
The Detroit News
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The probe launched last week “will focus on whether the mayor and/or any city officials potentially abused their authority by providing preferential treatment to the Make Your Date Non-Profit,” Detroit’s Office of Inspector General said in a statement.

Detroit’s Office of Inspector General is investigating interactions Mayor Mike Duggan and the city had with a program dedicated to premature births amid claims of favoritism, officials announced Monday.

The probe launched last week “will focus on whether the mayor and/or any city officials potentially abused their authority by providing preferential treatment to the Make Your Date Non-Profit,” the office said in a statement. “Upon conclusion of the investigation, results will be shared with the Mayor’s Office, City Council and the public.”

Representatives for Duggan defended the program and supported the decision to launch a probe.

"We welcome an independent review by the Office of the Inspector General of the city’s role in Wayne State’s Make Your Date program, a program that’s helped thousands of high-risk Detroit women deliver healthy babies," chief of staff Alexis Wiley said in a statement Monday. "We expect the OIG’s review will conclude that the city’s role in supporting this important program to help more Detroit women have healthy babies was handled transparently, ethically and appropriately."

News of the investigation came after the Detroit Free Press reported last week that the program received $358,000 in city grants and benefited from a fundraising campaign that a city official led at the mayor’s request.

Duggan has been linked to the program's leader, Dr. Sonia Hassan, who is affiliated with Wayne State University.

Businessman Robert Carmack, who has been locked in a legal battle with the city and a public feud with Duggan, has accused the mayor of bribery and infidelity in banners flown over Comerica Park in Detroit recently. He made headlines last year after airing private investigator footage on billboards outside City Hall showing the mayor visiting a Novi condo, indicating, he said, that Duggan did not live in Detroit.  

In a statement to The Detroit News on Monday, Bill Nowling, a spokesman for Hassan, said she welcomed the Inspector General Office's review.

"She is confident an unbiased review of the facts will confirm Make Your Date has acted ethically and completely above board. Any suggestion otherwise is pure innuendo and not based on any single fact to support it," he said. "Make Your Date is a program run and administered by Wayne State University. Dr. Hassan is an internationally recognized scholar and expert in prenatal medicine. Her research is instrumental in helping at-risk women carry their pregnancies to full term. Dr. Hassan is the volunteer director of Make Your Date and has never received a salary from the organization."

Make Your Date works to reduce the rate of preterm births through education, collaboration and partnerships with health care systems, universities and others, according to its website.

Wayne State University representatives defended the initiative Monday and said Hassan "earned exactly zero dollars for her volunteer efforts" on it.

"Detroit has the highest preterm birth rate in the country. Because of the city’s patient population and Wayne State’s excellence in prenatal care and research, the university was selected to host one of only two National Institutes of Health research branches outside of Bethesda, Maryland — the Perinatal Research Branch (PRB) of the National Institutes of Health," the university said. "The Make Your Date program was launched based on research done at the PRB, in which Dr. Hassan played a prominent role, and together the programs advance the understanding of prenatal care while providing care to mothers most in need.

In an interview with The Detroit News on Friday, Wiley defended the city's involvement with the program.

“No money was actually raised here," she said. "Wayne State did that on their own. The program actually received no money last year or this year.”

Ryan Friedrichs, the city's chief development officer, told The News: “The situation is being painted as what we’re doing with Make Your Date is unique or rare when it isn’t. In fact, most of our grants and programs are conducted like this. Everything from our Strategic Neighborhood Program to Detroit Pal... Make Your Date is just one of dozens of examples."

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