Feds nearing decision in Wayne County corruption probe

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — Federal prosecutors are close to announcing whether Robert Ficano or anyone else will be charged criminally following a years-long investigation of corruption within the Wayne County executive’s administration.

The three-year investigation is winding down and new charges could be announced early next year in a case that has yielded convictions of four former Ficano aides and one contractor, U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade told The Detroit News in an exclusive interview.

“We are winding down. We have some additional avenues we need to pursue. We hope we are close to reaching a decision on whether any additional people will be charged,” McQuade said. “We hope to make a decision on charges early next year.”

The investigation and corruption allegations dogged Ficano’s administration, contributing to his re-election loss in the August primary. The ongoing FBI probe followed a years-long investigation of Detroit City Hall that netted 38 convictions and sent former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick to prison for 28 years.

Ficano’s defense lawyer, Steve Fishman, declined to comment.

The Wayne County investigation is focused on fundraising and ties between contractors and staffers, notably former economic development chief Turkia Mullin and former Deputy Wayne County Executive Azzam Elder.

The News reported in September that the U.S. Attorney’s Office in June demanded a raft of documents about Ficano’s fundraiser, former Assistant Executive Nader Fakhouri, and Anthony Parlovecchio, a onetime Mullin deputy.

Prosecutors sought records about nonprofits Mullin directed. And in April, they interviewed officials connected to her: economic development successor Ray Byers; his deputy, Dave Tyler; county attorney Steve Collins, who worked for a nonprofit Mullin led; and former staffer Jill Ferrari, according to dozens of documents obtained by The News through the Freedom of Information Act.

The records also show federal agents are investigating Parlovecchio. The former Mullin staffer quit in 2011 and was hired on a contract soon thereafter as the county’s owner representative on a $300 million jail project.

The deal would have made him up to $2 million, but he was fired later that year.

After his dismissal, cost estimates on the downtown project soared and it was abandoned last year.

The documents contain emails showing prosecutors were in regular contact with Ficano’s top deputy, Jeffrey Collins, from January into early summer. In August, Ficano lost his bid for a fourth term, finishing fifth in the Democratic primary.

The FBI earlier disclosed in court filings that its corruption unit was investigating Mullin and Elder.

“It’s not done yet. Everyone has an interest in a timely resolution when it involves public officials,” McQuade said. “These investigations are complex, and we have many avenues to go down.”

Five people have been convicted during the investigation. They are:

■Ficano’s former political lieutenant Michael Grundy. He was labeled by prosecutors a remorseless thief who raided $700,000 from a health insurance program for the poor and blew the cash on a Louis Vuitton shopping spree, airplane tickets and $10,000 worth of “hair plugs” before his wedding. He was sentenced to 71/2 years in federal prison in July.

■Tahir Kazmi, former chief information officer, pleaded guilty to accepting $70,000 in bribes and was sentenced in February to nearly five years in prison.

■Ex-Wayne County information technology worker Zayd Allebban was sentenced to 41 months in prison. He covered up tens of thousands of dollars in cash and goods paid to Kazmi from computer software vendor Philip Shisha.

■Grundy’s friend Keith Griffin pleaded guilty to wire fraud and admitted he paid kickbacks to Grundy. He was sentenced to two years in prison.

■David Edwards, the county’s former deputy information technologies director, was sentenced to one year and a day in prison for pocketing $13,000 from a private contractor in exchange for overseeing the man’s contract.

rsnell@detroitnews.com(313) 222-2028Staff writer Joel Kurth contributed.