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Ecorse officials allege retaliation for reporting wrongdoing

George Hunter
The Detroit News

The Ecorse city administrator, police chief and public works director claim the mayor and four city council members retaliated against them for investigating and reporting alleged fraud in City Hall and the police department.

The attorney for City Administrator Richard Marsh, public safety director Joseph Thomas and public works director Mark Ragsdale sent a letter to the city Thursday advising that a whistleblower lawsuit would be filed if a settlement isn't reached.

Lamar Tidwell

The letter from Bingham Farms lawyer Leonard Mungo claims Mayor Lamar Tidwell and city council members Montel Love, LaToya Lamb, Kimberly Alexander and Roger Parker Sr. "discriminated against my clients by threatening to terminate their employment for participating in various investigations requested by the City of Ecorse."

Tidwell replied in an email Friday that Marsh had improperly fired the former police chief and public works director "and immediately hired his friends and acquaintances, Thomas and Ragsdale ... in violation of the Open Meetings Act."

None of the city council members accused in the letter immediately returned emails or phone calls seeking comment Friday. A phone call to city attorney Charles Wycoff also was not returned.

Mungo told The News Friday: "My clients are uncovering corruption, so (the accused officials) want to get them out of here as quickly as they can. They're trying to shut them down; that's what this is all about. They're threatening to terminate their employment contracts because of these investigations."

The allegation is the latest twist in a years-long corruption scandal that's the subject of a state and federal investigation and multiple lawsuits by police officers who also claim they faced retaliation for reporting alleged wrongdoing by Ecorse officials.

There are multiple allegations under investigation, two of which center around stolen vehicles that Tidwell and police Cpl. Kevin Barkman have been accused of mishandling.

Peter Acklerly, a Michigan Attorney General special agent and FBI task force member, said in a 2019 search warrant affidavit that former police chief Michael Moore and other police officials were engaged in an "orchestrated cover-up" involving one of the vehicles, a stolen truck that Barkman drove for several months.

Attempts Friday to reach Moore, who stepped down in October, and Barkman were not successful, although when Ackerly's allegations first surfaced publicly, the former chief told The News that the special agent lied in his affidavit.

"I told him, 'you perjured yourself in the affidavit for the warrant,'" Moore told The News in October. 

Ryan Jarvi, spokesman for the Attorney General's Office, declined to comment Friday, citing the ongoing investigation.

Tidwell said in his statement Friday: "The investigation ... was commenced over 2 years ago and there has been no finding of any wrongdoing and no evidence of any improper actions by any elected or appointed official within the City of Ecorse."

Thursday's letter claims the mayor and four city council members tried to force Thomas to step down as public safety director because of his investigation into the stolen truck Barkman ended up with, a 2014 Ford F-150, and a stolen 2006 Chevy Trailblazer the mayor claims Barkman sold him in February 2017 for $500.

Thomas wrote in an Oct. 22 memo there's no record of the sale, and that the mayor improperly handled the SUV's transaction.

One day after Tidwell won re-election as mayor, City Council members demanded he step down because of Thomas' allegations. 

Ragsdale, the Public Works director, also is investigating alleged improprieties in the water and sewerage department and other claims of wrongdoing, his attorney, Mungo said.

"They're investigating so many things, including some double-billing and overbilling for water and sewerage repair work," Mungo said. "All this information has been submitted to the state, the county and the federal law enforcement agencies.

"When the city administrator becomes aware of these allegations, it's his duty to investigate them," Mungo said. "These suspicions were brought to his attention, and he dispatched the public works director and public safety director to investigate these matters. And they were all retaliated against."

The allegations made in Mungo's letter are similar to those levied by Ecorse Cpl. Rick Mercado in a whistleblower lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in June. The suit claims Mercado was wrongfully disciplined and suspended after he tried to expose how stolen vehicles were being improperly processed. 

Mercado's attorney Nakisha Chaney said Friday the city is withholding information.

"We've made every effort to get information from the city, and former Chief Moore, and we had to go to court to compel production (of documents)," she said. "The information was due this past Monday, but we're still fighting to get it. It's been a wrestling match for the past four months."

ghunter@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2134

Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN