Detroit fire union official spent $220K in union funds on trips, booze, furniture, feds say

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — A Detroit Fire Department union official embezzled more than $220,000 and spent the money on international cruises, flights, furniture, booze and more during a years-long crime spree, according to unsealed federal court records.

Verdine Day, 62, of Eastpointe, the retired treasurer of Detroit Fire Fighters Association, has been charged with bank and wire fraud and accused of orchestrating the scheme, which continued after she retired in 2019. She was released on a $10,000 unsecured bond Monday after a brief hearing in federal court on charges that could send her to prison for up to 30 years.

Fire Engine Operator Verdine Day is accused by Fire Fighters Association officials of mishandling union funds.

Day is the latest person charged in an ongoing crackdown on public corruption in Detroit that has embroiled almost half of the elected City Council members, including Janeé Ayers, Scott Benson, Gabe Leland and André Spivey. Ayers and Benson have not been accused of wrongdoing but had their homes and offices raided by the FBI last month.

Several council staff members also are under investigation, and Spivey is expected to plead guilty to a bribery charge Tuesday in federal court.

“This prosecution demonstrates that we will not tolerate union officers who abuse their authority and line their own pockets at the expense of the union’s membership," Acting U.S. Attorney Saima Mohsin said in a statement.

The criminal filing was a surprise to union President Thomas Gehart.

“We were aware that the FBI was looking into these accusations, but this is the first I’ve heard that the FBI brought her in,” Gehart said. He declined further comment until he had a chance to talk with the union’s lawyers.

Day could not be immediately reached for comment.

“She’s been an outstanding member of the Detroit Fire Department and she enjoys the presumption of innocence in this matter,” her lawyer William Ford said. “She’s always been looking forward to straightening all things out, if in fact there’s any evidence she did anything wrong.”

She was the department's first African American female fire engine driver and was named Detroit Woman Firefighter of the Year in April 2019.

"If you have a passion for helping people, this is the best job ever," Day said at the ceremony.

Verdine Day looks to the sky as she speaks during a candlelight vigil.

The alleged fraud involving Day dates to approximately 2015 and lasted until she retired in September 2019. It was discovered the next year when the union hired an outside firm to analyze the association’s finances.

The audit led to a federal investigation that concluded Day issued checks in her name and changed the purpose of the expense in an attempt to hide the fraud, according to an FBI affidavit unsealed Monday. Day also allegedly wrote checks made payable to cash.

The failed cover-up, according to the affidavit, included claiming the union donated money to area charities, including the Detroit branch of the NAACP, Detroit Children’s Hospital and the Special Olympics, according to the affidavit.

During her four-year tenure, Day obtained approximately $167,900 and spent the money while circling the globe, according to the FBI.

From 2016-19, Day spent $25,821 on cruises and $2,600 on airfare to Las Vegas, Atlanta and Fort Myers, Fla., prosecutors allege.

She also made $52,144 in unauthorized purchases using union credit cards and spent money renting hotels in Tijuana, Mexico, the Bronx, Hollywood, Florida, and in Amsterdam, according to the affidavit. And she spent $106 at a Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. restaurant in Cozumel in 2019.

Day treated the union’s funds as her personal piggy bank, prosecutors said. Union money paid her personal cell phone bill and for satellite and cable television, too, according to the government.