Jury finds demo contractor not guilty in fraud case

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Pontiac — An Oakland Circuit Court jury deliberated less than four hours Monday before returning a not guilty verdict for a West Bloomfield contractor charged with attempted fraud in demolition inspections on Detroit properties.

Barry Ellentuck, 53, of West Bloomfield Township was charged with attempted fraud between $1,000 and $20,000 in billings, a felony which can carry up to 21/2 years in prison.

The charges were based on accusations made by one of Ellentuck’s former subcontractors, Tim McCarthy, who claimed he was pressured by Ellentuck to overbill the Detroit Land Bank for 115 hours of inspection work between April and July 2014 that never occurred.

McCarthy also alleged his signature was forged on paperwork by Ellentuck. The amount in question was $6,300 out of $1.2 million, which Ellentuck claims his company ADR Consultants is still owed for work.

The jury’s verdict follows a week of testimony and secret tape recording made by Ellentuck of a December 2014 meeting with McCarthy, which contradicted many of McCarthy’s allegations.

“I feel angry — I’m angry as hell,” Ellentuck said. “I’m thankful, of course, to my attorney and the support of my family and friends.”

Ellentuck, a former city building authority director under former Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, claims he reported questionable “no bid contracts” for demolition work in the city, which “resulted in getting charged with a felony.”

He added he plans to continue with two civil lawsuits against the state and city seeking more than $1 million in damages.

Assistant Attorney General Paul Cusick left the courtroom Monday without comment.

Ellentuck’s attorney, Joseph A. Lavigne contends the charges were political and 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.

The Ellentuck case has been 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.

Detroit officials have defended the city’s demolition program and said they are cooperating fully with all investigations.

When asked Monday to elaborate on his knowledge of any ongoing investigations — either state or federal — concerning other Detroit demolition work, Ellentuck declined to talk, saying only: “I can’t comment on any federal investigation.”

During Ellentuck’s trial, McCarthy of Royal Oak, admitted under cross examination he never received any verbal or written instructions to falsify inspection hours, but felt pressured when Ellentuck told him to “correct” hourly totals McCarthy has already been paid for such work. A supervisor had found errors in addresses inspected and dates McCarthy claimed to have worked.

Ellentuck could be heard on the tape being concerned about any appearance of overbilling a client and wanted billings “done right” and needed reports to agree with billings.

McCarthy complained to a land bank official in January 2015 and later to the State Attorney General’s Office that during the meeting he lost his job when he refused to do what he felt was “ethically wrong.” The recording actually showed Ellentuck had suspended McCarthy for one week for raising his voice at him during the meeting and an angry McCarthy subsequently quit, saying “I don’t need this (expletive).”

In closing arguments Monday, Lavigne, said in his 26-year career, he had never seen a case “which cried out more for justice.”

Cusick told jurors he had proven all the elements of attempted fraud and forgery which McCarthy’s supervisor, Lyn Jordan, testified she had done on McCarthy’s timesheets at his request “to save time” and receive payments while in the field.

Lavigne noted the discrepancy between McCarthy’s route sheets and timesheets was corrected in a revised billing in which ADR “underbilled” 150 hours for Detroit Land Bank worked. Moreover, there never was a full investigation done in the case, he said.

He said neither Ellentuck nor any ADR employee — outside of McCarthy — was ever interviewed by John Buck, an investigator with the State Attorney General’s Office.

Lavigne reminded jurors how Buck testified the case was built primarily on McCarthy’s accusations. When asked if he had found evidence that Ellentuck had committed fraud, Buck told Lavigne “no.”

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.