WXYZ's Ross Jones uncovers what sure looks like a clear conflict of interest.
“It’s just a tremendous appearance of impropriety,” Brendan Dunleavy, a former auditor general at Wayne County, tells Jones. “You have invaluable knowledge of the county, and now you’re going to work for someone the county is entering into negotiation with.”
Dunleavy is referring to Tony Saunders, a high-ranking Wayne County project consultant who was long involved in plans to construct a new jail. At the sam time, he also worked for Dan Gilbert's Rock Ventures while both sides negotiated a $533 million deal to build a new criminal justice complex.
For years, Saunders was county’s chief financial officer and county executive Warren Evans’ right-hand man. Last year, he left his full-time job with the county to start his own company, Volte and Invictus Equity Group but stayed on part-time to continue working on major projects, including the county’s jail.
Saunders was part of the team negotiating with Rock Ventures, regularly meeting with CEO Evans and even updating commissioners at a July 2017 meeting about the jail bids.
But while negotiations were ongoing and Saunders was working for Wayne County, he started working for Rock Ventures, too. Since February, he’s been working for both the county and Rock while both sides tried to work out a deal.
The county and Rock Venture insist everything has been on the up and up.
The county says Saunders was removed from the jail team once he joined Rock Ventures in February, and a company spokesperson tells WXYZ Saunders played no role in their efforts to land the jail deal.