Secret recording heard at Detroit demo contractor trial
Pontiac — The trial of a West Bloomfield Township contractor charged with attempted fraud for inspections on Detroit properties slated for demolition could wrap up Friday in Oakland Circuit Court, a day after a secretly taped recording was played to jurors.
Barry Ellentuck, 53, is charged with attempted fraud between $1,000 and $20,000 in billings, a felony that can carry up to 21/2 years in prison.
The charges are based on accusations made by one of Ellentuck’s former subcontractors, Tim McCarthy, who claims he was pressured to over bill the Detroit Land Bank for 115 hours of inspection work between April 2014 and July 2014 that never occurred. His signature also was allegedly forged on paperwork by Ellentuck.
The amount in question is $6,300 out of $1.2 million, which Ellentuck claims his ADR Consultants company is still owed.
On Thursday, McCarthy of Royal Oak admitted under cross examination he never received any verbal or written instructions to falsify the number of hours he spent doing inspections but felt pressured when Ellentuck told him to “correct” hourly totals that McCarthy already had been paid for.
McCarthy told the State Attorney General’s Office and two judges in January 2015 that he lost his job with ADR when he refused to do what he felt was “ethically wrong.”
Tape recordings, one which was played Thursday for jurors, challenged McCarthy’s version of events.
A jury of seven women and six men heard a 1-hour-and-42-minute tape recording that Ellentuck secretly made of a meeting between him, McCarthy and Lyn Jordan, a project manager, at Jordan’s house in Warren in December 2014.
During that meeting, McCarthy — who had been paid $87,000 in 2014 for inspection work at various sites — was quizzed by Ellentuck on why he hadn’t resolved a discrepancy in 115 hours found on McCarthy’s “route sheets” and possibly outdated reporting processes.
The meeting became contentious when McCarthy was asked why he hadn’t made corrections as ordered. At one point, Ellentuck said: “My biggest concern is we are overbilling the client” and noted McCarthy was mixing Michigan Land Bank sites in other cities outside Detroit, with the billing for Detroit Land Bank work.
“I don’t think anyone but me cares about the accuracy of data and that has got to stop.”
McCarthy offered several explanations, and Ellentuck said: “Tim, enough,” which prompted McCarthy to reply: “Why do you ask me questions and then not listen to the answer?”
When McCarthy raised his voice, Ellentuck said: “You want to raise your voice to me, get out. See you in a week. ... You’re suspended for a week.”
The two argued briefly during which Ellentuck said: “You want to quit, that’s cool. We’re good.” McCarthy responded: “Yeah, I’m tired of this (expletive).”
Ellentuck demanded the return of old ADR equipment — a laptop computer, a printer and other electronics — in McCarthy’s possession.
McCarthy testified Thursday he has never returned the equipment despite being told to by Ellentuck, the Royal Oak Police and a judge.
Ellentuck’s defense attorney, Joseph A. Lavigne, asked Judge Wendy Potts, who is supervising the week-long trial, for a directed verdict Thursday, saying assistant State Attorney General Paul Cusick failed to meet several elements and Ellentuck should be found not guilty.
“I do have concerns but I’m not prepared to rule at this time,” said Potts, who added she would issue an opinion Friday morning before the trial is slated to resume with Lavigne calling more defense witnesses, possibly even Ellentuck.
Thursday’s testimony included McCarthy being cross-examined on the stand and Lavigne calling his first witness, John Buck, a retired Redford Township police chief who is the chief investigator in the case.
Under questioning by Lavigne, Buck testified the case was built primarily on McCarthy’s accusations and no interviews were done with ADR employees. Buck said he also had not obtained any information from ADR outside of “route sheets” provided by McCarthy.
Lavigne has told jurors evidence shows signatures were never forged by his client and McCarthy knew exactly what numbers were in dispute.
The Ellentuck case is being watched with interest as a broader federal probe continues into the operations of state and city land programs to remove blighted homes, including the Detroit Hardest Hit effort.
Ellentuck, a former city building authority director under former Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, has denied allegations of overbilling. Ellentuck’s company was paid $300,00 a year for technical services state-wide plus an additional $55 an hour for inspection services by the state land bank.
McCarthy was paid $25 an hour for doing inspections.
Lavigne believes the charges are political and were brought against his client one day after Ellentuck himself had gone to officials at the city and state land banks about his concerns of overbillings in unbidded contracts obtained by three companies known in Metro Detroit demolition circles as the “Big Three.”
The Big Three are Adamo Group and Homrich, both of Detroit, and MCM of Bloomfield Hills.