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Detroit — Mayor Mike Duggan on Wednesday vowed "100 percent" cooperation in an investigation into claims the city gave favor to a nonprofit dedicated to premature births, saying the assertions are "completely false."

Detroit's Office of Inspector General on Monday announced it's investigating "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.

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.

The mayor, during a news conference at City Hall on Wednesday, said the city never directed any dollars toward a nonprofit.

"We never in any way supported or directed a cent to a nonprofit," Duggan said. "The partnership was with Wayne State University directly."

The city's contracts were made with the university and that the fundraising went toward the university's foundation, he said.

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Mayor Mike Duggan vows full cooperation in an investigation into claims the city gave favor to a nonprofit dedicated to premature births. John Greilick, The Detroit News

Duggan's statement comes despite an email reviewed by The Detroit News from Alexis Wiley, Duggan's chief of staff, in 2017 to the program's leader, Dr. Sonia Hassan, who is affiliated with Wayne State University.

"Dr. Hassan, I’d like to introduce you to Ryan Friedrichs. He is our chief development officer and the Mayor has tasked him with launching a large scale fundraising effort to Make Your Date. He’ll be in touch soon! Have a great weekend!”

Duggan's relationship to Hassan has been publicly questioned in recent months.

The state Attorney General's office on Wednesday said it is reviewing the information, but has not opened an investigation, according to spokeswoman Kelly Rossman-McKinney.

In April 2014, Duggan noted, there had been a private nonprofit established. The paperwork was filed, but within a couple of months, officials involved realized that Wayne State had a public foundation that already accepted tax-exempt money and decided the program would instead be run by the university.

On Wednesday, Duggan reiterated the city's stance that it welcomes the independent review of the city’s role in Wayne State’s Make Your Date program, designed to help high-risk Detroit women deliver healthy babies.

"From the first contract with the city of Detroit in 2015, it was 100 percent a university program. Make Your Date is a Wayne State University program," the mayor said. "It was all public university foundation money.

"That nonprofit they formed in 2014, it never started. It never opened a bank account. It's been dormant from the inception. This is what's so troubling."

Matt Lockwood, communications director for Wayne State University, confirmed Duggan's statement Wednesday.

"The university has handled this program from the beginning," Lockwood said. "The 501(c)(3) was never activated. It is dormant. It has never received or put out a penny."

Lockwood added that fundraising campaign had been "talked about," but it "never raised $1."

University representatives have defended the Make Your Date program and said that Hassan is a volunteer in her efforts to lead the program.

The university said the program launched based on research done at the National Institutes of Health's Perinatal Research Branch at Wayne State and Detroit Medical Center's Hutzel Women’s Hospital in which Hassan played a prominent role.

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.

Carmack 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. 

On Wednesday, Duggan repeatedly declined to address questions about his relationship with Hassan, saying: "I'm never going to talk about my personal life."

Duggan stood by earlier statements from his office that the city's role in supporting the program was ethical.

"I am 100 percent confident that when the OIG does this," Duggan said, "they will find a dormant nonprofit that never spent any money, never took any money, never ever opened a bank account in the city of Detroit."

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

bnoble@detroitnews.com


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