Top 10 Detroit News storylines of 2018
Here are the local news stories with the greatest impact throughout the year:
Larry Nassar abuse scandal and fallout
After hearing nine days of testimony from more than 260 victims in two counties, former sports doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced to life in prison. As a result of this scandal, MSU officials stepped down from key positions, including President Lou Anna Simon, who was later charged with lying to police, and Athletic Director Mark Hollis. A number of investigations into MSU opened, and the fallout reached USA Gymnastics team and the U.S. Olympic Committee.
Here's a roundup of stories on the scandal.
Death by Instagram
The inside story of Detroit’s gang wars, a battle prosecutors say was fueled by Instagram hit lists and the Seven Mile Bloods, the social-media savvy gang that had a death grip on both the opioid drug trade and one of the deadliest parts of America’s most violent big city. The series featured nine chapters and culminated in convictions for some of the subjects involved.
The United Auto Workers — Fiat Chrysler scandal
Federal prosecutors have secured seven convictions during an ongoing investigation of auto industry corruption involving the United Auto Workers and Detroit’s automakers.
The investigation so far has centered on a conspiracy involving Fiat Chrysler executives bribing labor leaders to "grease the skids" of labor negotiations.
Several high-ranking auto industry figures have been linked to the scandal, including former UAW President Dennis Williams and the late Fiat Chrysler Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne as investigators have focused on auto executives funneling illegal payments from a training center to union executives to buy labor peace. Agents also are investigating whether UAW executives misspent member dues on personal luxuries and if labor leaders at General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. received money or benefits through their tax-exempt nonprofits.
Those involved include:
- Former UAW official Virdell King, who was sentenced to 60 days
- Michael Brown, the former Fiat Chrysler director of labor relations, was sentenced to one year and a day in prison
- Monica Morgan-Holiefield, widow of former UAW Vice President General Holiefield, was sentenced to 18 months in prison
- Former Fiat Chrysler financial analyst Jerome Durden, was sentenced to 15 months in prison
- Former UAW official Keith Mickens was sentenced to a year and a day in prison
- Former Fiat Chrysler Vice President Alphons Iacobelli was sentenced to 5½ years in prison
- Former UAW official Nancy Adams Johnson, was sentenced to a year and a day in prison
Metro Detroit public corruption
An ongoing investigation is focused on Macomb County politicians accepting bribes in exchange for approving municipal contracts with Sterling Heights trash hauler Rizzo Environmental Services, towing magnate Gasper Fiore, and the Macomb County Public Works office.
According to court records, Chuck Rizzo, his father Charles Rizzo, Detroit towing titan Gasper Fiore and others plotted to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from Rizzo Environmental Services using a fake legal settlement agreement, fraudulent consulting deals, kickbacks, shell companies and stolen money to help pay for Chuck Rizzo’s mansion in Bloomfield Township, the government alleges.
Fiore was sentenced Aug. 2 to 21 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to his part in the bribery scheme. Others involved in the scheme include:
- Dino Bucci, former Macomb Township trustee and former Macomb County Public Works official, who was indicted on bribery, extortion, fraud, theft and money laundering charges.
- Dean Reynolds, former Clinton Township trustee, was convicted of 14 bribery-related charges.
- Celia Washington, former Detroit Police deputy chief, was sentenced to one year and a day in federal prison for pocketing a $3,000 bribe from Fiore.
- Michael Lovelock, former Chesterfield Township supervisor, was sentenced to 24 months in prison for accepting $30,000 in bribes from Chuck Rizzo from 2010 to 2016 in exchange for supporting a garbage-hauling contract with the township.
- Christopher Craigmiles, former New Haven trustee, was sentenced to 18 months in prison for taking a $5,000 cash bribe from an undercover agent posing as a consultant to Rizzo.
- Clifford Freitas, former Macomb Township trustee, was sentenced to 20 months in prison for accepting $7,500 in bribes from Chuck Rizzo.
- Brett Harris, a former New Haven trustee, was sentenced to 15 months in prison for accepting bribes from an undercover agent posing as a consultant to Rizzo.
- Angelo Selva, a Macomb County businessman and former best friend of Reynolds, helped his friend obtain bribes from Rizzo and took a plea deal. He served 30 days in jail.
- Paulin Modi, an engineering contractor from Troy, struck a plea deal after he was charged with conspiracy to bribe a public official.
- Steven Hohensee, former Washington Township public works superintendent, died while free on bond. The feds said he accepted a $10,000 bribe from a confidential FBI source.
- James Pistilli, an engineering contractor from Holly, funneled bribes to Hohensee and took a plea deal. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail.
- Christopher Sorrentino, a Macomb Township paving contractor, who is accused of delivering $66,000 in kickbacks to Bucci and is cooperating with the feds.
- Quintin Ramanauskas, a former Rizzo Environmental Services employee, who gave $3,000 bribes to Reynolds and Lovelock, the feds say. He struck a plea deal and is helping in the case.
- Fazullah Khan, an engineering company owner from Troy, was charged with four counts of bribery after the feds say he tried to bribe unnamed public officials with $11,000 in cash and other incentives.
- Derrick Hicks, a Bloomfield Hills businessman who provided garbage cans to Rizzo Environmental Services, took a plea deal and was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison. He helped Rizzo embezzle more than $500,000 from the company.
- Robert Maechtle, a manager at Motor City Electric, took a plea deal and was sentenced to nine months home confinement and a $15,000 fine. He conspired with others to bribe Hohensee.
- Michael Mitchell, the director of parks and grants for Plymouth Township, was charged with one count of theft from a local government receiving federal assistance.
Ford purchases the Michigan Central Depot
The signs had been there for a while when Ford Motor Co. announced it had bought the iconic Michigan Central Depot from the Moroun family for $90 million. The revival of the building, which first opened in 1913 and stood unused for decades, may be the most poignant symbol for Detroit's comeback.
Ford's restoration of the Michigan Central Depot by 2022 would bring 5,000 employees to Detroit's Corktown neighborhood, where the Blue Oval aims to create what it calls "the next generation" of automotive mobility. The price tag for the 1.2 million-square-foot campus renovation will be as much as $740 million, although the company will get plenty of tax incentives.
Check out the video below for a tour of the depot with Bill Ford.
Funeral home fetal remains scandal
Perry Funeral Home is the subject of state and Detroit police investigations for allegedly mishandling remains and falsely claiming to have buried them. Attorneys for plaintiffs in a lawsuit that was granted class-action status told a Wayne County judge Perry may have mishandled more than 200 infant and fetal remains.
The Perry case is part of a wider investigation into funeral homes statewide, including a state and Detroit police probe of Cantrell Funeral Home in Detroit, which also faces allegations of mishandling remains and fraud. In mid-October, 11 infant bodies were discovered hidden in the funeral home's ceiling.
As part of the investigation, police are also looking into whether laws were broken when dozens of fetuses were dropped off at the Wayne State University Mortuary without being identified.
This month, all new activity at Knollwood Park Cemetery in Canton Township was halted after inspectors found more than 300 improperly-stored infant and fetal remains in multiple crypts.
Marijuana becomes legal in Michigan
Voters in the mid-term election approved a proposal that made Michigan the first state in the Midwest to legalize recreational marijuana. The ballot language allows adults over the age of 21 to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and grow up to 12 plants per household.
Retail sales that could start next year are expected to generate new tax revenue for the state. However, a bill under consideration in the lame-duck Legislature would ban marijuana home grows and change the tax rate.
The law went into effect on Dec. 6, but accessing legal pot has proven more difficult than anticipated — and more confusing. Some municipalities are passing local ordinances to pro-actively prohibit marijuana retailers and other businesses, and use on college campuses and at workplaces will continue to be banned.
Check out the video below to learn more:
Juvenile offenders are freed
Hundreds of inmates serving mandatory life sentences without parole for murders committed as juveniles can now get a second chance at freedom after a federal judge ruled a state law unconstitutional in April.
The order by U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith ended a nearly eight-year legal battle and came six years after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down mandatory no-parole sentences for juveniles, arguing they are less culpable and have greater capacity for rehabilitation.
A June decision from the Michigan Supreme Court went further, determining that judges, not juries, have the sole power to decide whether someone under 18 gets life in prison without parole. This paved the way for more than 200 new sentencing hearings for juvenile lifers.
Among the cases we covered this year are those of Jose Burgos, who was 16 when he shot twin brothers during a bungled drug deal; Kimberly Simmons, who was imprisoned since 17 and serving a life sentence for first-degree murder and arson; and Charles Lewis, who was 17 when he was sentenced to life without parole for fatally shooting an off-duty police officer.
Contaminated water across the state
The fight for clean water has been an issue for Flint, Detroit and spots across Michigan that have been contaminated by chemicals commonly found in waterproofing and firefighting compounds.
The city of Flint won't be finished replacing about 18,300 lead or galvanized steel water lines until 2019, officials said in early December. Flint's lines were weakened by river water that wasn't treated with anti-corrosion chemicals following the city's water source switch in 2014, while city government was under state oversight. The result was the Flint Water Crisis.
Kids in the Detroit Public Schools Community District went back to classes in the fall with bottled water on their supply list. More than half of the 106 schools inside Michigan's largest school district tested at high levels of copper and/or lead, Detroit Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said in September.
We looked at reports for 57 buildings and found one school that had more than 54 times the allowable amount of lead under federal law while another exceeded the regulated copper level by nearly 30 times.
Vitti announced a $2 million water station system to address water quality issues across the district.
It's taken more than five years for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to understand the enormity of the chemical contamination crisis threatening the state that a DEQ researcher warned about in 2012, a researcher told state officials in November.
In December, state health officials plan to start testing the blood serum of residents in Kent County to study the link between drinking water with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, and the resulting increase in a person’s body.
The toxic class of chemicals is linked to some health effects, including cancer and immune system problems. The chemical was widely used in Teflon, Scotchgard, military bases and firefighting foam.
Now the DMC has run into more problems with sanitation. In November, Harper University Hospital was cited for infection-control issues, including bugs flying around an intensive care unit.
Days later, Detroit Receiving was flagged for not properly monitoring surgical site infections. The issues are ongoing and we will continue to follow up.