Detroit fire union official admits spending embezzled money on flights, furniture, more

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — A Detroit Fire Department union official accused of embezzling more than $220,000 and spending the money on international cruises, flights, furniture and more pleaded guilty to bank fraud Thursday in federal court.

The plea from retired Detroit Fire Fighters Association Treasurer Verdine Day, 62, of Eastpointe in front of U.S. District Judge George Caram Steeh came two months after she was charged with the 30-year felony, and accused of orchestrating a years-long crime spree.

Day was charged amid a broader crackdown on public corruption in Detroit that has embroiled three police personnel and almost half of the elected City Council members, including Janeé Ayers, Scott Benson and former Councilman André Spivey. Ayers and Benson have not been charged with wrongdoing but had their homes and offices raided by the FBI in August.

Day will be sentenced March 24.

The criminal case tarnished a distinguished career.

Day 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.

Detroit Councilman André Spivey pleads guilty to bribery, expected to resign

Prosecutors say Day was secretly helping herself to union money.

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, Florida, 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 cellphone bill and for satellite and cable television, too, according to the government.

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