Secret audit of Wayne County jail released

Charles Ramirez
The Detroit News

A judge on Friday unsealed a secret audit into cost overruns at the long-stalled Wayne County Jail project that led to charges against three county officials.

The audit, which had been concealed for more than two years, alleged widespread wrongdoing, $29 million in no-bid contracts and concluded that “several high ranking” county officials and contractors misled commissioners from the start about cost overruns.

Doing so cost taxpayers nearly $96 million, the audit from former Wayne County Auditor General Willie Mayo found.

Wayne County Circuit Judge Timothy Kenny, who kept the audit sealed while acting as a one-man grand jury into the scandal, unsealed the document and released it to the media and commissioners after 6 p.m. on Friday. He did so in response to a lawsuit from the Detroit Free Press.

“I’m extremely frustrated that it took as long as it did to get it and to get it out to the press and the public,” said Commissioner Raymond Basham, D-Taylor.

The report is more than 170 pages long. Basham had not read all of it but said what he’s seen shows “the people from Wayne County who were working on the jail didn’t have the experience or the expertise to run that kind of project.”

The unfinished, 2,000-bed jail project was started by former county Executive Bob Ficano. Construction for the $220 million project began in 2011, but was halted in June 2013 after $100 million in overruns.

Officials estimate it costs the county about $1.3 million a month to have the half-finished jail sitting unused in Greektown.

The audit accused county officials of knowing the project would experience cost overruns as soon as the commission approved it.

“There was a $41 million funding gap related to the construction of the jail, when the Wayne County commissioners approved the (contract) in September 2011 and subsequently approved by the (county’s building authority) on February 9, 2012,” the August 2013 audit read.

Mayo turned the contract over to Prosecutor Kym Worthy because he suspected criminal wrongdoing. Among other things, the audit accuses county officials of designing the bidding process “to provide an unfair advantage to certain bidders.”

Worthy asked Kenny to form a grand jury. It led to charges against the county’s former chief financial officer, Carla Sledge; a county attorney, Steve Collins, and a project consultant, Anthony Parlovecchio.

Charges against Collins and Parlovecchio have been dismissed.

The audit was released just one day after commissioners approved new Executive Warren Evans’ proposal to settle the county’s lawsuit against contractors involved in the project.

The interim settlement would give AECOM and Ghafari Associates until Feb. 29 to provide concept plans and cost estimates for finishing a scaled-down jail. The companies are expected to provide the county two options for the jail, a 1,944 bed facility and one with 1,504 beds.

James Canning, a spokesman for Evans, said he’s pleased the report was released.

“The public has a right to know how its tax dollars were spent or misspent,” Canning said.