AFSCME, NAACP duck and cover in Detroit

Related story: "City union official upset by bribery revelations"

FBI: 'There are lots of targets'

The chief of staff for Detroit City Council President Ken Cockrel Jr. resigned last week after being caught on videotape taking cash amid a widening federal investigation into public corruption in Detroit, the Free Press has learned.

John Clark, who worked for Cockrel for eight years, quit his job Wednesday after federal agents showed Cockrel a videotape of Clark accepting money earlier this year, two sources told the Free Press. One of the sources said Clark received $2,000 on two occasions.

Cockrel acknowledged late Saturday that Clark resigned, but would not elaborate.

Clark did not answer his cell phone Saturday.

Cockrel, who sources say is not a target of the investigation, met with FBI agents for about 90 minutes Wednesday and viewed hidden camera footage of Clark accepting money from someone, sources said.

The sources asked for anonymity because of the sensitivity of the ongoing probe. The investigation relates to a controversial sludge recycling contract with Houston-based Synagro Technologies that City Council approved last fall.

"There are lots of targets" in the investigation, one source said Saturday.

The Free Press first reported Friday night on freep.com that FBI agents had launched a probe in which they have obtained wiretaps and quizzed several people, including asking questions about Councilwoman Monica Conyers. She has not returned calls seeking comment.

Conyers was among the five members who approved the Synagro deal. The others were Sheila Cockrel, Martha Reeves, Barbara-Rose Collins and Alberta Tinsley-Talabi.

Ken Cockrel Jr., Kwame Kenyatta, Brenda Jones and JoAnn Watson voted against the contract.

'We're prepared to cooperate'

Council approved the deal with Synagro in November, over protests from residents in southwest Detroit who did not want the plant built in their neighborhood, and from union officials who argued against the privatization of some 140 city jobs.

Under the agreement, the city would pay Synagro about $47 million a year to handle 183,000 tons of wastewater treatment sludge. The company would recycle some of the sludge into fertilizer and invest about $125 million in a new plant that would incinerate the rest.

"Synagro is aware there is a federal investigation of the City Council involving our contract," the company's general counsel, Alvin Thomas II, said Saturday afternoon. "We understand Synagro is not a target, and we're prepared to fully cooperate with the federal government in the investigation."

Thomas said he became aware of the probe recently, but would not elaborate.

He said, however, that Rayford Jackson, a Detroit developer whom agents have inquired about, was hired to consult for Synagro on the project. Published reports have said Jackson's company, RAS Development, received a 30% share of the deal to boost the participation of Detroiters in the project.

Jackson and his company were identified in a 2006 Detroit auditor general report on a controversy over the sale of city-owned properties.

The audit said the Detroit Neighborhood Development Corp. sold city-owned properties at reduced prices to companies owned by Jackson and others, who resold the properties at a sizable profit.

The audit was prompted by a news media report that former Planning and Development Director Henry Hagood had arranged for the sale of the properties to Jackson and other longtime friends.

The audit faulted the Neighborhood Development Corp. with poor oversight and other shortcomings.

Jackson has not returned repeated requests for comment during the past week and a half.

FBI agents have asked questions about Jackson's involvement in the deal and about his relationship with Bernard Kilpatrick, the father of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. It is unclear what role, if any, Bernard Kilpatrick played in the Synagro deal.

Reached Friday night at the Tigers game, Bernard Kilpatrick said no federal agents had contacted him.

He said he does know Jackson, but had no involvement in the Synagro deal.

"I wouldn't know anything about it," he said, adding that federal agents "don't talk to me."

He referred other questions to his lawyer, Abraham Singer, who said he also has not had any contact from federal investigators.

The mayor, speaking at a news media event Saturday, declined to talk about the federal probe.

Protests, debates, lobbying

The deal to turn sludge into recycled material has percolated in council since 1998, when a company called Minergy first proposed it. When the company ran into financial trouble, Synagro purchased Minergy and took over the plans for Detroit. Synagro has said its plan will save the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department about $5 million annually.

The project was the subject of intense debate and lobbying before its Nov. 20 approval.

At public hearings on the deal, residents initially fought the plan, fearing it would bring more pollution to the already industrialized neighborhood in southwest Detroit. The new facility is to be built near the city's existing treatment plant on West Jefferson.

Conyers was among those who criticized the plan, even asking at one point why the city couldn't build such a facility itself. In the end, Conyers voted to approve the deal.

In early November, the Rev. Wendell Anthony, head of the Detroit branch of the NAACP and an influential and politically connected minister, wrote to City Council to strongly endorse the Synagro contract.

The deal, Anthony wrote, provides "opportunities for African American and other minorities" to share in the financial rewards of building and operating the waste treatment facility, and would benefit union workers. Anthony praised Jackson as a "committed citizen of our community."

The letter was written on the letterhead of the Freedom Institute for Economic, Social Justice and Political Empowerment, a Detroit not-for-profit charity founded and chaired by Anthony to promote opportunities for minority groups. Jackson is listed as an institute board member, records show.

LaToya Henry, spokeswoman for the Detroit branch NAACP, said Saturday that Anthony was unavailable for comment.

In addition to Jackson, Synagro is represented in Michigan by James Rosendall of Grand Rapids, who is listed as the company's vice president of marketing development. The State of Michigan's Web site lists Rosendall as a commissioner of the state Department of Transportation.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm appointed him to the post in 2005.

He did not return calls Friday or Saturday.

Oakland County Drain Commissioner John McCulloch, a frequent critic of the Detroit water department, said news of the federal probe is "extremely disappointing. This is certainly a setback in terms of the progress we have made in trying to bolster and improve relations between suburban communities and the city of Detroit. This will not bode well for the region."


1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I didn't read anything about AFSCME in the article. What was the reference in the headline?

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