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Secret recording reveals personal relationship not focus of probe into Duggan

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News
Ellen Ha

Detroit — A businessman who has taken aim at Mike Duggan with airplane banners and video footage is now turning his attention to an independent investigation into whether the mayor gave favor to a nonprofit.

Robert Carmack, who is facing felony charges over a city land dispute, is calling the probe a "sham" based on statements the head of the investigative agency made during a secretly recorded meeting this month.

"They ain't going to do an investigation," Carmack said, "... and we're just going to give him a pass or rubber stamp that nothing is illegal."

Carmack had an associate secretly record the April 18 meeting with Detroit Inspector General Ellen Ha and her deputy, Kamau Marable, telling Ha he wants her to "inspect the mayor's office for corruption," according to a copy of the footage obtained Friday by The Detroit News. 

During the more than 26-minute exchange, Ha specified the review would center around the nonprofit Make Your Date, which is dedicated to preventing premature births, not any relationship between Duggan and the woman who runs the program, Dr. Sonia Hassan. 

Robert Carmack

"We are doing an investigation of Mayor Mike Duggan and his involvement with Make your Date," Ha told Carmack. "That is what we are investigating, whether or not the mayor gave Make Your Date a preferential treatment.

"We are not investigating whether or not what relationship ... that has nothing to do with anything in terms of where our office is concerned."

Marable interjected: "The issue of why preferential treatment would be given is not our issue, it's if preferential treatment is given ... it doesn't matter. What you can't do is give preferential treatment to organizations in government. That's our focus."

Ha's office launched the review on April 5 to determine whether Duggan and city officials potentially "abused their authority" by providing preferential treatment to the program run by Wayne State University. 

The investigation came after the Detroit Free Press reported 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 said the city never directed any dollars toward a nonprofit. The partnership, he said, was with the university directly. 

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

Carmack, who hired a private investigator last summer to trail the mayor and capture his comings and goings including visits to a Novi condo, asked Ha during the April 18 meeting whether the review would examine the mayor's relationship to a woman also captured in the video footage at the same location.

Ha declined to address further questions from Carmack about whether leaving the relationship out of the equation was a problematic approach, saying "we're investigating" and "we can't really share."

Carmack on Friday said he has no confidence in the scope of Ha's review, experience or investigative skills.

In response, Marable told The News that Ha's "background speaks for itself." He and Ha merely reiterated to Carmack during the meeting, he said, what had already been publicly disclosed.

"We stated in our initial press release what the focus of investigation would be and nothing that was said in the secretly recorded meeting was contrary to that," he said. 

Ha was appointed to her six-year term as Detroit’s second inspector general last summer by Detroit’s City Council. 

The independent agency was set up under the 2012 charter to ensure honesty and integrity in city government and investigating allegations of waste, abuse, fraud and corruption. 

A native of South Korea, Ha immigrated to Detroit in 1975, according to a bio from the city included along with news of Ha's appointment.

Ha, who has a degree in political science from the University of Michigan and a doctorate from the University of Detroit School of Law, began her legal career in the city’s Law Department during Coleman Young’s administration 

She later worked in a private law practice, on the city’s Human Rights Commission under an appointment by Mayor Dennis Archer and spent time as a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Detroit.

Ha returned to the city’s law department in 2001 as a supervisor of the office’s then newly-created FOIA section, during Archer’s second term. She remained in that role until 2014, when she was promoted to the department's chief of staff.

Duggan, in a statement released after Ha's inspector general appointment, called her a “thoughtful, fair and extremely hardworking lawyer” and said her “ethics and integrity” were perfect for the position. 

The mayor has vowed "100 percent" cooperation in the investigation and that the assertions of preferential treatment are "completely false."