Emails of Duggan, five aides target of AG's search warrant

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Michigan Attorney General's investigation into deleted emails involving a controversial nonprofit is focused on the email accounts of Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and five aides, according to a copy of a search warrant.

The two-page search warrant document, obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request filed by activist Robert Davis and provided to The Detroit News, was released by the city on Tuesday. The city confirmed the search warrant was released under Davis' request. 

The warrant was executed Friday on the City of Detroit's information technology department as part of a probe into city employees deleting emails involving Make Your Date, a nonprofit championed by Duggan that addresses premature birth.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan

The City of Detroit's Innovation and Technology Department was the focus of the search, which sought any and all electronic records and attachments for city email accounts belonging to Duggan, his chief of staff Alexis Wiley, Chief Development Officer Ryan Friedrichs, the husband of Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, and Deputy Chief Development Officer Sirene Abou-Chakra as well as two other lower-level grants staffers, Monique Phillips and Claire Huttenlocher.

The attorney general sought communications between Jan. 1, 2014, and Nov. 7, 2019, according to the search warrant.

Detroit Corporation Counsel Lawrence Garcia had said Friday the city was "fully cooperating" with the attorney general's investigation. In a provided statement Tuesday, Garcia said the attorney general's office "is doing its job."

"We were already prepared to provide emails related to Make Your Date as they already had been pulled for the OIG investigation. Those emails have been online for the public to read for several months," he said. "We continue to cooperate fully with the AG’s staff, and we hope their work is completed soon."

The targeting of Duggan's emails comes after questions were raised about what the mayor knew about the deletion of emails involving Make Your Date.

The mayor has said he wasn't aware nor did he direct staff to delete the emails but later learned that the deletion decision came amid scrutiny that he contends was fueled by criticism from Detroit businessman Robert Carmack. 

The auto shop owner had aired private investigator footage on a billboard truck outside City Hall of the mayor's comings and goings. The direction to delete emails, he said, was a "mistake" that was made "to protect two junior staff people" from being dragged into any scrutiny by Carmack. 

The city's Office of Inspector General concluded last month in a report that Duggan's treatment of Make Your Date has been preferential but noted the mayor had not abused his power.

Make Your Date, the report said, received a total of $358,368 in grant funds from the Detroit Health Department. 

According to Inspector General Ellen Ha's report, the two grants staff members, Phillips and Huttenlocher, were instructed to delete emails regarding Make Your Date "in an attempt to hide the amount of work done by the department to secure grant funding." The program is headed by Dr. Sonia Hassan, who has been linked to Duggan.

Ha concluded that Wiley abused her authority by ordering the workers in the city's grants office to delete emails pertaining to the program through Friedrichs and Abou-Chakra. 

The report also indicated "there is no evidence to suggest that Mayor Duggan directed or knew about Ms. Wiley’s order to Mr. Friedrichs for his staff to delete MYD emails."

Kelly Rossman-McKinney, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Dana Nessel, confirmed Friday that the search warrant had been in response to the deleted emails. But Rossman-McKinney declined to comment Tuesday on the city's release of the search warrant.

The warrant, approved Thursday in Ferndale's 43rd District Court, also asks for any backup or archived files and emails from past email services used by the city. 

"The search shall include the recovery of data from any and all computers and servers off site, across the network, or cloud-based storage solutions under the control of the City of Detroit," it reads. 

Michigan state law bars government employees from destroying public records outside of set schedules. The Attorney General's Office and the Michigan State Police had previously been investigating actions involving the Make Your Date.

Meanwhile, Duggan and Garcia have said Ha's review found no city rules or policies were broken by the mayoral aides who directed that the emails be deleted. But Ha has noted her review didn't take into account whether city procedures and state law were violated.

That is being investigated by the Public Integrity Unit of the state Attorney General's Office, she said.

Duggan has said Wiley, Friedrichs and Abou-Chakra would undergo document management training in the wake of Ha's investigation. 

In the aftermath of the inspector general's report, Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones called for an ordinance to prevent the deletion of city governmental emails and a five-year retention policy. 

When questioned about whether document training is enough of a penalty for his chief of staff and two other aides, Duggan has said there’s been no finding as of now that Wiley — a former WJBK-TV reporter — broke any rules or policies. 

“If that changes, I’ll deal with that,” he said, adding the deleted emails were “completely innocuous.” 

Staff writer Craig Mauger contributed.