One year. One city. Endless opportunities.

Embezzlement in Detroit Government? Let's Hear Specifics

My post yesterday on JoAnn Watson's call for a federal bailout for Detroit sure got both supporters and opponents fired up. It also prompted some expressions of deep anger at Detroit city government, which was often derided as "corrupt." I'm not arguing that there aren't some crooks in city government -- same as there are at the county, state and federal levels -- but the reactions (and my responses to my commenters) started me to thinking about specific acts of corruption involving Detroit taxpayers' money. Maybe my memory's just shot, but I was having a tough time recalling many truly costly and egregious acts of theft among high-ranking city officials in recent years -- and couldn't think of any that would convince me that Detroit government couldn't handle bailout cash.

Here's part of a reply I posted:

I mean, I also get ticked off at crooks in government and incompetence. However, I honestly don't think most political figures in the city are just outright stealing tax money.

I mean, even arguably the worst of the lot, Monica Conyers, was really "only" guilty of improperly leveraging her position and influence to line her pockets with bribes. That's bad, yes, but not the same thing as stealing from the public till. Kilpatrick, meanwhile, pleaded guilty to felony obstruction of justice after also being charged with perjury and misconduct in office. And yes, he improperly disbursed funds to the officers he'd legitimately wronged -- but he didn't steal that money. (Plus, those officers should've been compensated long ago anyway.)

At the end, I ask for specific instances of theft of city tax dollars that people are pointing to when they complain about corruption in Detroit. I think the question is legitimate enough to make for a short post here.

So that's what I'd like to know from you guys, if you don't mind. Take a minute to talk about the specific examples of Detroit embezzlement that have got your blood boiling.

A few quick ground rules, though: Don't just go off on city officials because they're the ones occupying the hot seat. (For instance, someone complained about Watson's run-in with a movie crew. You don't like that she did that, that's fine, but that doesn't make anyone a criminal.) And let's not talk about bribes from potential vendors (wrong, yes, but not theft from taxpayers) or the steering of city contracts to political friends, as none of this is uncommon to politics at any level. The exception, of course, is if contracts/jobs were steered to friends and no real, quality work got done -- as was the case with Lonnie Bates. Certainly feel free to mention these examples.

Finally, let's not talk about sheer incompetence either -- because, frankly, I don't think we'd disagree on a lot there.

But I do want to know which instances of outright municipal theft you are referring to if you're contending that Detroit doesn't need a bailout because the politicians would just steal the money. And what do you think these specific instances really say about city government as a whole? What're the examples? What has been confirmed stolen? Has anyone been charged/convicted? Throw up links, comments, do anything short of just sputtering "Kwame..Kwame...Kwame."

The floor is all yours, my friends...

  • Print
  • Comment
Comments (9)
Post a Comment »
  • 1

    I just read every comment on the original. Not one person mentioned theft or embezzlement! I think you're reading into the comments things that aren't there. People mentioned corruption over and over, but no one said theft or embezzlement.

    Go do a word search through that page and you'll see the only time those words come up are in your comments, Darrell

  • 3

    Darrell - you wrote....

    "But I do want to know which instances of outright municipal theft you are referring to if you're contending that Detroit doesn't need a bailout because the politicians would just steal the money"

    It seemed from that statement that you were saying the commenters were making false and baseless references and contentions.

    I see what you're saying now. But I don't think there needs to be outright embezzlement or theft anyway to justify the readers abhorrence at the thought of giving the Detroit government any money that has been collected from taxpayers outside of Detroit. The corruption and incompetence is quite enough for people to have misgivings, and indeed, horror at the thought.

  • 4

    One definition I found of corruption is "use of a position of trust for dishonest gain." Corruption isn't just taking money from taxpayers. It are acts which are done for personal, rather than public, gain. So taking bribes is corruption. Taking trips and perks from companies trying to get their hands on your pension dollars is corruption. Putting your buddies and family members in positions not warranted is corruption. (Note that these all happened.)

    I would imagine that physically "taking from the till" would be rather rare because it's obvious thievery. Other, less obvious acts, are easily rationalized by the one who commits the act. And maybe in an isolated instance may be tolerable. If someone hired their brother to run the water department, and their brother had the experience to do that, then that could be a fair move.

    There is an accumulation of events that get us fed up with this. I prefer to just work around the city to get done what needs to get done. Unfortunately you need a group of City employees to say "enough is enough." One here or there won't change anything. It is sad.

  • 5

    One could argue that not accomplishing anything is a form of stealing. If you were being paid by Time, Inc. to write articles but you sat around playing video games, you would not technically be doing anything illegal, but you would practically be stealing from your employer.

    To switch your question around, lets see if we can specifically say anything positive the city government has done in the last ten years. I think we could list a handful of specifics, but really, how many between Archer and Bing?

  • 6

    While it's not a specific charge of corruption - the Detroit City Council incumbents as well as candidates in the upcoming elections are collectively about as fiscally responsible as a My Super Sweet 16 profile on MTV. For them to suggest that they would know what to do with several billion dollars of taxpayer money is laughable. The Detroit New from two days ago as proof = In this economy and the metro Detroit area specifically, a foreclosure shouldn't be seen as solely the act of a deadbeat. That being said - The sitting Detroit City Council is NOT unemployed and for them to mismanage their own funds leads me to think they would have just as hard a time managing the cities. My feeling is that I would never invest with someone who doesn't already have millions because if they can't make money for themselves, how will they make money for me. In Detroit the mismanagement of the elected officials personal lives certainly calls into question their handling of the cities.

  • 7

    I would think that it is "taking money from tax payers" if you steer contracts to your buddies when some other contractor would charge less. I've seen that happen (often) in a place I used to work. If Contractor A is qualified and bids $100,000 for a project, and Contractor B is qualified and also a buddy to a politician in a position to influence the selection of the contractor, and bids $150,000, and they go with Contractor B, then the politician is guilty of cheating the taxpayers out of $50,000.

    I haven't followed Detroit politics closely enough since moving away in 1982 to come up with specific cases, but I wanted to give my Two Cents on how narrowly you are defining "corruption."

    Everything where I live is done on the "Good Old Boy" system and I know for a certain fact that much of it is indeed corrupt and injust, even when no specific amount of money is taken directly from the taxpayers.

  • 8

    Detroit Public Schools are a function of government, and it has been widely discussed by media how monies have been mishandled via payroll, theft, embezzlement and poor fiscal oversight which allowed employees to steal significant money or public property.

    The "Culture of Corruption" discussed by Robert Bobb is bigger than a single example of wrongdoing, that the situation was allowed to continue for so long, without strong city leadership working to resolve the quagmire is illustrative of a lack of political will to do the right thing.

    If a city can't manage it's schools, or can't steer the district away from a culture of corruption and fiscal abuse without intervention from Granholm's appointed "Emergency Financial Manager", how can we be expected to believe city leadership would appropriately handle a federal bailout? Perhaps if there were an "Emergency Bailout Manager" appointed...

    Just a few examples, discussed earlier this month in the Detroit Free Press.

    1,545 DPS employees had ineligible dependents on the staff, costing the district an estimated $2.6 million.

    The district arrested at least 20 people in the last three weeks for stealing $150,000 in equipment from schools

    Three community groups leased space from the district but had stopped paying rent or had the utilities still in DPS' name.

    DPS was paying a national insurance company to cover grandfathered employees the insurance company could not name.

    DPS was paying a company to negotiate Medicade payments. They were pulling in $5 or $6 million when the district should be eligible for at least $60 million.

    And more where that came from...

Add Your Comment:

You must be logged in to post a comment.
The Detroit Blog Daily E-mail

Get e-mail updates from TIME's The Detroit Blog in your inbox and never miss a day.

More News from Our Partners

Quotes of the Day »

NICHOLAS FISHER, expert at Stony Brook University in New York who took part in a study which found that bluefin tuna contaminated with radiation believed to be from Fukushima Daiichi were present off the coast of California just five months after the nuclear meltdown.