Consider the salacious banners flying above the crowds on Opening Day an appetizer.
Commissioned by government agitator Bob Carmack, who's mired in property disputes with the city, the banners read, "ANY1 HAD SEX W/MIKE DUGGAN 4 A RAISE? CALL 1-800-CARMACK" and "DR. HUSSAN [sic] MARRY ME? LOVE MAYOR DUGGAN." Then, in red, "OH I FORGOT I'M MARRIED."
Hours after their first sighting, the Free Press served up the main course: An investigative report suggesting Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan used city resources in an attempt to help his rumored mistress, Wayne State University researcher Dr. Sonia Hassan, raise money for her nonprofit — an ethically questionable arrangement.
According to the report, Duggan picked Hassan to lead the city's efforts to reduce premature births, directed his chief development officer to launch "a large scale fundraising effort" for the nonprofit, Make Your Date, and helped steer the organization $358,000 in city grants.
The Freep quoted several government ethics experts who called the fundraising arrangement uncommon and said that for things to be on the up-and-up, the accomodations should have been extended to all local nonprofits with the same mission:
“It’s not at all unusual for cities to make grants or write contracts for nonprofits, that’s done all the time,” said University of Southern California professor Terry Cooper, who authored the book “The Responsible Administrator: An Approach to Ethics for the Administrative Role.” But "to raise money for a nonprofit, that’s quite unusual. It seems to me there are several dimensions to this beyond a conflict of interest.”
“You don’t just have a private conversation with one single organization, ‘We’re going to help you.’" [said Hui Chen, the former compliance counsel expert at the U.S. Department of Justice.] “My stance is, to really do things in a fair and transparent way for a public organization, if you want to offer this kind of help, offer it to everybody.”
Detroit’s decision to assign city workers for nonprofit fundraising is not common, said Elizabeth Boris, a fellow at the Urban Institute and co-editor of the book, “Nonprofits and Government: Collaboration and Conflict.”
“I would say that I don’t know of other instances, which is not to say that they don’t exist, but it seems to me that it’s probably rare,” said Boris.
A dozen organizations in Detroit do work similar to Make Your Date, the Freep reports.
Duggan has never clarified the nature of his relationship with Hassan.
Last year, the pair were seen going into the same suburban house in video captured by a private investigator hired by Carmack. Duggan was seen there on three occasions, each time without his security detail three times. The Free Press did not establish that the two are having an affair.
The mayor's office denied that the city ever provided money directly to Make Your Date, claiming the non-profit — which is registered as a non-profit with the state and IRS — is administered as a Wayne State University program and that "all funding went solely" to the school. But the city reportedly listed both Wayne State and Make Your Date as recipients of the funding.
The city abandoned the fundraising effort before any donations were made to the organization, the Freep reports.
In a response sent to Deadline Detroit Thursday evening, the mayor's office added:
Today’s Detroit Free Press story regarding the Make Your Date program grossly misrepresented the facts. Detroit has the highest preterm birth rate in Michigan. Pregnant women in this city deserve access to the latest medical research and education to help them have healthy babies. That’s why the City of Detroit turned to Wayne State University, the leading university in the nation in this field, to help develop a program to help reduce preterm birth.
"The reporters knew, but failed to include, that Dr. Hassan, a nationally known expert in preventing preterm birth, provided her expertise to Make Your Date on a completely voluntary basis. She never accepted a dime from the program." One thing the story got right is that “there has been no suggestion that Make Your Date or Hassan have misused any funds.”
The decision to put development staff on the fundraising effort was discovered in an email obtained by the Free Press through the Freedom of Information Act. Initially, the paper reports, the city did not provide the specific email and did so only when pressed.
The messages from the city officials to Hassan were not included in the city’s initial 395-page response, which had been reviewed by the law department. Instead, the initial FOIA response included a single email between Wiley, Hassan and Friedrichs with a message body that read, “Attachment is corrupted.” After the Free Press questioned the "corrupted" notation on the attachment, the city provided the emails about the fundraising campaign and explained that “clean copies” were eventually discovered during a “manual search.”