LeDuff: Did They Poison the City? Feds Drop New Raft of Subpoenas on Detroit Demo

January 27, 2019, 10:22 PM by  Charlie LeDuff

Author's note:  This is the latest open letter between me and Johnny (Federal) Lawman, who has been raking through the city's demolition program, prospecting for corruption.

I thought you should be cc'd here, dear reader. If you live next to a vacant lot, we could be talking about the health and well-being of your children.

Dear Johnny:


I'm pleased to see you received my letters this past summer about the suspicious demolition dirt used to fill the holes where dilapidated houses used to stand. It could possibly be contaminated soil. Think of the impact on the city's children, if that is true. An unpleasant and devastating thought.

I got hold of the new subpoenas you sent this month to all the demo contractors -- nine by my count -- asking for original documents regarding the dirt: The who's, the what's, the where's, the when's and the how muches. You've got contractors and politicians running scared. One contractor told me with real concern: "We made half a highway disappear. If they're serious, we'd have to dig up thousands of holes (where homes once stood) because nobody really knows exactly where we put it."

I must say, Johnny, your documents are full of plucky prose and grammatical stylings: Subpoena Duces Tecum, is among my favorites.

And then there's this:

"Whereas the Special Inspector General of the TARP has information which indicates that you may have information relevant or material to an ongoing investigation."

And my favorite. In all caps!


You sound serious Johnny. I mean, working without a paycheck and serving the subpoenas on a Friday evening at 5:30 during a government shutdown. You must be against a serious time constraint, I'm thinking. Maybe a five-year statute of limitations as spelled out in the Sherman Antitrust Act?

But this is serious business. My smart friends and I don't know how many of the 10,000 lots were filled with contaminated highway dirt, or brick covered in lead paint or asbestos fibers, or where much of the dirt came from at all. I heard you visited some of the sites I mentioned in my last letter where contractors were storing mounds of soil from unknown places. Or claiming it came from people's backyards in Birmingham.

Even the mayor said it came from a quarry in an outer county. But that quarry doesn't exist. I know you already know that.

How many millions of dollars would it take to dig up all those holes?  How many millions of dollars in legal settlements might the city be exposed to if people suspect their children have been exposed to contaminants? Hello Geoffrey Fieger. 1-800-Call-Sam. Mike Wins (at least for now.)

And to think that they were doing the dirt right under your nose, while you were here investigating collusion and bid-rigging and price splitting.

I know. Wow!

I tried to tell the mayor something wasn't right about all of it, Johnny. But all I got for my trouble was threatening legal papers (again). Not even Trump does that.

Dunno if you saw it over the holidays, but the city of Detroit's hand-picked Inspector General released a report that said the secret meetings between city officials and favored contractors to discuss the federally funded demolition work didn't violate the city's rules. The IG did say it gave the impression of "preferential treatment."

A few weeks later, your subpoenas show up. I don't think you buy it.

I reached out to the general counsel of the Detroit Land Bank Authority, which owns the properties and pays for the demos. But it turns out the general counsel of the land bank quit. Took another job. The Land Bank's director of inventory, likewise, beat it for the door last month.

You should also know that the federal Environmental Protection Agency was also involved. Administrators from the EPA's Region 5 office called Detroit's demolition program a "success story." They called Detroit's demo dirt program the largest urban environmental program in the history of the United States. The mayor likes to quote that. You remember the EPA Region 5, don't you Johnny? They were supposed to be looking after Flint, too.

I hope for their own sake, people tied up in this don't fib or try to cover their tracks. It's too late. You've already got the documents you're asking for. It is a five-year felony to make false statements to a federal agent. Just ask Michael Flynn.

No wonder the mayor looks like someone beat him silly with a feather pillow. No wonder he takes long drives by himself to God knows where. Probably just getting his head cleared.

Anyhoo -- Let me know what your plans are Johnny, and I'll let everyone around here know.

As always: We believe in you.                                              

Sincerely, Charlie


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Photo Of The Day 

Potd_img_6223_257 Beautiful entrance to Spirit of Hope Church on Trumbull and Grand River avenues.

By: Michael Lucido