AG's office executes search warrant on Detroit's IT department
Detroit — The Michigan Attorney General's Office and Michigan State Police executed a search warrant Friday on the City of Detroit's information technology department as part of a probe into city employees deleting emails involving the Make Your Date nonprofit.
Kelly Rossman-McKinney, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Dana Nessel, confirmed the search warrant was in response to the deleted emails.
Michigan state law bars government employees from destroying public records outside of set schedules. The Attorney General's Office and the Michigan State Police had previously been investigating actions involving the Make Your Date, a nonprofit championed by Mayor Mike Duggan that addresses premature birth.
"We are fully cooperating with the Attorney General's investigation. In fact, I spent much of my day working closely with her staff," Detroit Corporation Counsel Lawrence Garcia said in a Friday statement.
Dan Olsen, a spokesman for the Attorney General's Office, wouldn't elaborate on what authorities were specifically looking for on Friday.
After its own investigation, the city's Office of Inspector General concluded three aides to Duggan, including chief of staff Alexis Wiley, abused their power by directing lower-level staff to delete emails involving Make Your Date.
According to inspector general's report, two grants staff members were directed to delete emails regarding Make Your Date by a high-ranking official in the mayor's office "in an attempt to hide the amount of work done by the department to secure grant funding." The program is headed by Dr. Sonia Hassan, who has been linked to Duggan.
Duggan and Garcia have repeatedly said Inspector General Ellen Ha's review found no city rules or policies were broken by the mayoral aides who directed that the emails be deleted.
But Ha has noted her review didn't take into account whether city procedures and state law were violated. That is being investigated by the Public Integrity Unit of the state Attorney General's Office, she said.
Duggan said that Wiley, and two other aides — Chief Development Officer Ryan Friedrichs, the husband of Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, and Deputy Chief Development Officer Sirene Abou-Chakra — would undergo document management training in the wake of Ha's investigation.
Asked in an email last week about the situation in Detroit potentially violating state law, Garcia noted Nessel was investigating and declined to comment.
Meanwhile, multiple attorneys have told The Detroit News that they were unaware of charges being brought in recent years against any official in Michigan over deleted emails.
People who destroy public records outside of set retention schedules usually could be found guilty of a misdemeanor, said Robin Luce Herrmann, an attorney with the firm Butzel Long and general counsel for the Michigan Press Association. Penalties can be up to two years behind bars or a fine of not more than $1,000, according to state law.
Other legal penalties could be levied, Luce Herrmann said, depending on what records were destroyed and on whether local governments have their own rules.
Michigan's own manual on records management by local government says state law "declares the improper disposal of local government records to be a crime."
In the aftermath of the inspector general's report, Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones called for an ordinance to prevent the deletion of city governmental emails and a five-year retention policy.
City Councilman James Tate has said the three aides should face proper punishment over email deletions he called "problematic" and that violated "the public's trust." Tate wants the council's legal team to outline the inspector general's findings and "demand appropriate discipline to the employees."
When questioned about whether document training is enough of a penalty for his chief of staff and two other aides, Duggan has said there’s been no finding as of now that Wiley — a former WJBK-TV reporter — broke any rules or policies.
“If that changes, I’ll deal with that,” he said, adding the deleted emails were “completely innocuous.”