Jailed political consultant, who pleaded guilty, wants taxpayers to fund his appeal

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A prominent figure in the Detroit city hall corruption scandal led by Former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, has asked U.S. District Judge Marianne O. Battani to approve his request for a court appointed lawyer to appeal his guilty plea.

Pleaded guilty to bribery and extortion charges, now wants taxpayers to pay for a lawyer to appeal his conviction.

Political consultant and top aide to former Detroit councilwoman Monica Conyers, Sam Riddle pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery and extortion in July 2010, and was sentenced to 37 months in prison. Riddle has been in federal custody since May 2010, and in October, filed a notice to appeal.

Judge Battani rejected the pleading saying that Riddle failed to prove that he was unable to pay for the cost of a lawyer, because on the application, he simply wrote “indigent.” She said that once he properly files the forms, that the court could begin reviewing the application and make a decision.

Conyers, wife of U.S. Rep. John Conyers, also pleaded guilty to bribery and extortion charges and is also serving a 37 month prison sentence. Like Riddle, she too has decided to change her guilty plea, saying she was pressured by her own lawyer, prosecutors and the media.

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State employees forced to produce hundreds of reports that nobody reads

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What if you spent days or weeks preparing a special report that no one ever read? That’s exactly what critics are saying about the ever-increasing burden piled on Michigan’s civil servants by lawmakers in Lansing.

Perhaps it’s time they say, to cut back on the reports, and post all the raw data online, making it far more useful to citizens and providing a level of transparency that would promote lawmaker accountability.

According to a report in the Detroit Free Press, state employees were required by to churn out over 800 reports this year for lawmakers on how budgeted money is spent. That total is up 29 percent since 2001 even though the number of employees able to produce the reports is down by 11,000. The job will only get tougher when an additional 2,400 workers take early retirement on Dec 31.

The so-called standard “boilerplate” in budget bills is responsible for so many reports having to be generated.  This year, budget bills required 485 types of reports, some of which were to be produced semi-annually or quarterly, totally over 800. Beside the budget-required reports, hundreds or even thousand more reports are put out by non-budgetary agencies or as a matter of long-term practice.

While some of the reports are clearly necessary, many border on fringe information that only a few lawmaker might read. Some of the reports produced regularly include, “staff time/activity regarding development of ergonomic standards” to “prisoners receiving off-site medical care that would have received care within the correctional facility if beds had been available” to “the number of homes weatherized through the preceding quarter.”

Some lawmakers, including Rep. Dan Scripps, question the number of reports required and claim that some are produced by virtue of just one request, sometimes by lawmakers who have termed out and are no longer around. In many cases he says, “whether anyone reads them at all is an open question.”

The concept of fewer reports and more online information is favored by Gov.-elect Rick Snyder, and after taking office, he may push for changes already advanced by some lawmakers and critics of the existing system.  Instead of putting out the hundreds of staff-generated reports, the idea is that complete raw data would be more useful to politicians and state residents alike.

Should the state publish its accounting records, anyone would be able to produce reports on a wide range of matters. The full-disclosure approach would yield far more transparency and comprehensive information in government activities than what is available today.

A project called “Show Michigan the Money, managed by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, advocates putting more raw data on the Internet, and “produce fewer but much more useful and high quality reports.” The center’s director, Ken Braun, points to the high cost of producing the current reports.

Braun says that certain reports are useful, such as motor vehicle statistical reports and certain financial analyses requires by House and senate fiscal agencies. However, given the ease of which data can be analyzed by savvy citizens using programs like Microsoft Excel, providing the information online would allow many groups to tailor reports to their own needs.

One state that’s at the forefront of pushing out financial information for all its citizens to see is Missouri. It’s “Accountability Portal” on the Internet allows anyone to look up virtually all checks, salary and other useful information on the web.

With Michigan, the sticking point seems to be the cost of moving data to the Internet so that it’s accessible by all. Some say the cost could be as high as $100 million to $150 million, although a spokesperson for Snyder says that seems “somewhat off base.”

A large portion of the costs would be to overhaul the state’s accounting system which was implemented in 1994, based on 1980s technology and effectively predating the Internet. The only way to get all the financial information online would be to completely replace the existing accounting system with a new one.

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Man charged with felony for reading wife’s emails

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Leon Walker of Rochester Hills, Michigan man is facing felony charges for reading emails on a computer that he shared with his wife.

Thirty-three-year-old Leon Walker used his wife’s password to get into her Gmail account and learned that she was having an affair, which he had suspected. Walker said he was trying to protect the couple’s children from neglect and calls the case a “miscarriage of justice.”

Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper says the felony computer misuse charge is justified. “The guy is a hacker,” Cooper said in a voice mail response to the Detroit Free Press last week. “It was password protected, he had wonderful skills, and was highly trained. Then he downloaded them and used them in a very contentious way.”

Privacy law writer Frederick Lane said the law typically is used to prosecute identity theft and stealing trade secrets. He says he questions if a wife can expect privacy on a computer she shares with her husband.

It’s going to be interesting because there are no clear legal answers here,” said Frederick Lane, a Vermont attorney and nationally recognized expert who has published five books on electronic privacy. The fact that the two still were living together, and that Leon Walker had routine access to the computer, may help him, Lane said.

A number of defense attorneys were surprised by the filing of the criminal charges. “What’s the difference between that and parents who get on their kids’ Facebook accounts?” attorney Deborah McKelvy said. “You’re going to have to start prosecuting a whole bunch of parents.”
If convicted Walker faces up to 5 years in prison.

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Businessman latest to plead guilty in Detroit City Hall corruption scandal

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Andrew Park, 46, is the latest figure in the Kilpatrick city hall corruption scandal to plead guilty to charges in Detroit U.S District Court. Property developer and businessman Park, admitted to hiding income totaling $898,000 from three companies controlled by him: Asian Village, Pangborn Technovations Inc. and Security Communication Alert Network.

Park’s tax evasion charges were a byproduct of an FBI investigation of business dealings with former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s high school buddy, Derrick A. Miller.  After Kilpatrick was elected mayor in 2002, he appointed Miller as his chief aide and subsequently chief information officer. Miller resigned in 2007 to start his own firm.

In 2008, FBI agents raided the home of Park taking records and computers, looking for evidence of payments to Miller. Investors in a failed real estate development, Asian Village, told authorities that they believed Park was paying bribes to Miller for his help in steering money and business to Park and his ventures. The city helped fund the Asian Village project, providing a $2.75 million loan from the General Retirement System Fund.

In another transaction involving Miller, Park’s company Security Alert Communication Network was given a $4 million city contract to install security cameras in downtown Detroit using federal funds from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. His company was paid in full, but failed to complete the project.

Prosecutors say that Park failed to report income from the ventures, and then claimed that the receipts were loans. The unpaid tax amounts to over $300,000. In addition to the taxes, he faces up to $100,000 in fines and five years in prison.

Miller was charged last week as part of group of city hall insiders, including Kilpatrick, Kilpatrick’s father, Bernard, close friend Bobby Ferguson, and former Detroit water chief Victor Mercado. The U.S Attorney’s office announced a 38-count indictment against the men, charging them with extortion, bribery and fraud.

Kilpatrick resigned from office in 2008 after being charged with 10 felonies, including perjury, misconduct in office and obstruction of justice. He pleaded guilty to lesser charges and served 99 days in jail, but was sent back for violating the terms of his parole.  He is currently serving time in federal prison in Milan, Michigan.

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Detroit grand jury indicts former mayor Kilpatrick’s fraud and corruption ring

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A 17-member federal grand jury indicted former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, his father Bernard Kilpatrick, former mayoral aide Derrick A Miller, Kilpatrick close friend Bobby Ferguson and former Detroit water chief Victor Mercado.

The U.S. Attorney’s Detroit office announced the 38-count indictment, charging the group with racketeering conspiracy and accusing them with extortion, bribery and fraud. “Tens of millions of dollars of municipal contracts” were steered to Ferguson using coercion exerted by Kilpatrick’s office.

Kwame Kilpatrick, Detroit's mayor from 2002 through 2008, is currently serving time in a federal prison for violating parole in another case.

Ferguson is a close friend of Kwame Kilpatrick and a hauling and construction contractor. He was previously indicted in September on charges of bid-rigging a $12 million contract connected to a HUD affordable housing project in the Detroit area.

The government brought charges under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act which makes it easier to sue interconnected entities in complex cases. A RICO case, often used in instances of organized crime, also provides harsher sentencing provisions and recovery of triple damages.

The FBI said that it has been investigating the case for six years, and alleges that some of the corruption can be traced back to when the younger Kilpatrick was a state representative, prior to his election as mayor in 2001. The FBI says that its investigation of the Kilpatrick-era city hall corruption is not over.

Besides the FBI, other agencies involved in the investigation include the criminal division of the IRS, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Bernard Kilpatrick was involved in the corruption schemes through a consulting firm, Maestro Associates LLC, that he started around the time his son was elected mayor. He was part of the team including Kwame Kilpatrick, Derrick Miller and Victor Mercado that regularly extorted monies from legitimate contractors involved in city sewer and water main work, often steering a portion of the contract to pal Bobby Ferguson. In some cases, Ferguson received big fees for doing no work at all.

The government alleges that Ferguson kicked back over $420,000 to Kilpatrick and his father Bernard, and said Bernard Kilpatrick deposited more than $600,000 in cash into his personal bank accounts while his son served as the mayor of Detroit from 2002 through 2008.

Most of the contracts were valued in the tens of millions of dollars, although the men tried to extort a company into giving Ferguson a large piece of a $140 million contract for a new pumping station. The group also worked together in instances of rig-bidding, so that Ferguson would be guaranteed contract wins by manipulating the bidding process.

Kilpatrick resigned from office in 2008 after being charged with 10 felonies, including perjury, misconduct in office and obstruction of justice. He pleaded guilty to lesser charges and served 99 days in jail, but was sent back for violating the terms of his parole.  He is currently serving time in federal prison in Milan, Michigan.

The Detroit News

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Detroit grieves teachers union for telling substitutes to do as little as possible

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The Detroit Public School system has filed an unfair labor practice charge against the Detroit Federation of Teachers for instructing its substitute teachers to act as though they’re on the job for only a day, and do as little as possible.

In the filing with the state’s Employment Relations Commission, the school district says that the union posted instructions on its website ordering substitute teachers to stop developing lesson plans, grading assignments and meeting with parents at conferences.

DPS spokesman Steven Wasko said “It’s highly unusual for an employer to file (an unfair labor practice charge), as the filings usually come from union. But DFT’s actions and instructions to its subs to, in effect, sit around and baby-sit, were not only so outrageous that they generated national headlines, they also specifically violated the existing collective bargaining agreement agreed to by its members.”

The union says that substitute teachers, in many instances, are filling the role of regular teachers because of a teacher shortage in the area. Union president Keith Johnson defended his position saying the school district “wants to treat our substitutes like day-to-day subs and pay them like day-to-day subs,” Johnson said. “I just told them to act like day-to-day substitutes.”

The Detroit News

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Another guilty plea obtained in Detroit City Hall corruption scandal

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A hauling contractor charged last month for his involvement in bid-rigging a HUD project, has pleaded guilty. Rodney Burrell, owner of R & R Heavy Hauling, agreed to plead guilty to the charge of misprision of felony, meaning that he admitted to knowing about a conspiracy to defraud the government but gave misleading and incomplete information about it.

Burrell was implicated in a bidding scheme that set up former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s longtime friend, Bobby Ferguson, to be awarded a $12 million contract in connection with a low-income housing project, Garden View Estates. Burrell and another contractor, submitted bogus bids on the contract, so that Ferguson’s inflated bid appeared to be the lowest, and would be awarded the work.

The other contractor, Brian Dodds, was promised a $300,000 subcontract from Ferguson. Dodds pleaded guilty last month to identical charges and is awaiting sentencing.

The Detroit City Hall corruption scandal has resulted in over 10 felony convictions for corruption, all of which were tied to disgraced former mayor Kilpatrick, who is now serving time in federal prison.

The Detroit News

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