Lawsuit seeks release of Wayne County jail audit

Joel Kurth
The Detroit News

Detroit – — A citizens' group sued Wayne County on Wednesday demanding the release of a secret audit that prompted three indictments in the downtown jail debacle.

Citizens United Against Corrupt Government named the audit's author, Auditor General Willie Mayo, as sole defendant in the Wayne County Circuit Court suit.

The report, which details the origin of a stalled $300 million downtown jail project, sparked a one-person grand jury investigation that recently ended with charges against three current and former county officials.

"It's a public document and there is no longer any reason for secrecy," said Andrew Patterson, an attorney for the group.

"The grand jury has acted. They got three indictments. It is public information that the public ought to have access to."

Patterson has filed numerous lawsuits against the county and other governments demanding information. He has frequently represented union activist Robert Davis and had sought the jail audit through the Freedom of Information Act. The request was denied.

Mayo told The News on Wednesday that he can't release the report because he was ordered not to by Wayne County Circuit Judge Timothy Kenny, who convened the grand jury.

Mayo forwarded a draft of his audit last year to Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy. It has never been made public, but those who have seen it told The Detroit News it alleges the project at Gratiot and Madison was designed to enrich colleagues of county officials.

The grand jury met for a year and in September issued indictments against former Wayne County Chief Financial Officer Carla Sledge, assistant Corporation Counsel Steve Collins and Anthony Parlovecchio, a former county development aide who worked as the county's former representative on the project.

Sledge and Collins face felony charges of misconduct in office, a fairly obscure offense that allows prosecutors to charge public officials with violating common law — those established before colonists came to the United States.

The audit isn't the only part of the case that is secret. The judge in the criminal proceedings also imposed a gag order in October.

The jail has been stalled for more than a year since construction costs soared by tens of millions of dollars, prompting lawsuits and ensnaring County Executive Robert Ficano in another scandal. He lost re-election in August.

The jail project may still be revived. Commissioners this month voted down a leading alternative, an option to build a jail on the site of a closed state prison on the east side.

The indictments are the latest in a jail project that was born in controversy. County commissioners approved bonds for the deal in 2010, despite warnings from their own staff.

"It is still unclear how this project would benefit Wayne County from a financial perspective," a commission analyst wrote to them in 2011.

Among other things, the deal netted a former top deputy to Ficano, Charlie J. Williams, a $420,000 brokerage fee for the sale of a parking lot. Weeks later, he was among the Wayne County Airport Authority members who voted to appoint the county's development czar, Turkia Mullin, as airport CEO. She held the post for two months in 2011 before she was fired.

Her deputy, Parlovecchio, quit the county, then returned within days as a private owner representative for the jail. He is suing the county because he was fired from the job that would have paid him $1.9 million if the project came in on time and under budget.

Jail contractor Walbridge Aldinger was selected over objections from contractors who complained the process favored the company. Its CEO, John Rakolta, served on a board of a nonprofit led by Mullin that was paying her a $75,000 bonus atop her $200,000 salary from the county.

After Parlovecchio was fired in 2011, the county went without an owner representative for several months, as costs soared. Contractors and other critics have said estimates ballooned because county officials repeatedly added design changes and never included furniture or technology in the project's initial cost estimates.

Ficano abandoned the half-finished jail in June when cost estimates soared to $391 million — $91 million more than bond amounts approved in 2011. The jail has used up $157 million from the bonds. Costs to finish it are now estimated at $372.5 million.