DETROIT (WXYZ) - Did a local paving company cheat a cash-starved suburb by billing for street patching work they never performed?
That's exactly what happened according to two former employees. They told the 7 Action News Investigators the bogus billing ran into the tens of thousands of dollars, that it happened right under the nose of an emergency financial manager, and that there was a lack of oversight on the paving contract.
The workers said their ex-employer, ABC Paving, had a contract with Ecorse, but were billing the city for paving jobs done elsewhere, essentially getting paid twice for the same job, and cheating taxpayers in the process.
"Taking advantage of a poor city like that, it’s just wrong," said one of the workers, talking to 7 Action News with his identity hidden.
"It makes me sick because I was there. I guess you could say I was part of it. But I was just doing a job that I was told to do," said a second former ABC Paving employee talking on camera in silhouette.
Both men said ABC Paving charged the city repeatedly for work that was never done over a two-year period.
"How often did this happen?” I asked one of the ex-employees.
“It became a running joke in the company…it happened almost weekly," he said.
"It was truckload, after truckload, after truckload for days," the second former ABC Paving employee said.
The workers told 7 Action News it was easy for their company to get away with the bogus billing because Ecorse never sent inspectors out while paving jobs were being done.
"There was no oversight at all on the streets. And it's really not typical. You go into a city and when you go out there and work an inspector shows up," said one of the ex-employees.
The 7 Action News Investigators sent the emergency manager a freedom of Information request for “any and all records” for work done by ABC Paving in calendar year 2011, including inspection reports. When the records arrived weeks later, there was not a single inspection report included. And, the invoices didn't even specify where the work was supposed to be done.
The workers said nobody from the city even instructed them where to do the pavement patching.
"There was nobody in the City of Ecorse that would go around, find the worst streets in the city to have these patches put down. It was left up to our company."
7 Action News sat down with the emergency financial manager and the man in charge of paving projects in Ecorse and showed them the interviews with former ABC Paving workers. You'll see what they said about these allegations shortly.
First a little background on the City of Ecorse and why they might have been an easy mark.
Ecorse is a small city on the Detroit River with a huge steel mill. There was a time when Ecorse was flush with cash. But the steel business has been declining for decades, eroding the city's tax base.
Three years ago, Governor Jennifer Granholm appointed Joyce Parker Emergency Manager hoping to wipe out a big deficit, and restore city services. Parker said that when she took over, the streets in Ecorse were littered with potholes. There wasn't enough money to completely re-pave the streets, so they decided to buy some time with patch work.
"It was to try to extend our street maintenance dollars as far as we could, get some patching done in the worst areas of the city and stretch it as far as possible," said Ecorse Public Works Director Scott Davidson who recently took the Ecorse job after retiring from the same position in the City of Monroe.
Sadly, the former ABC Paving workers said, their company siphoned off some of those precious dollars. The workers have some evidence to corroborate their story.
Comparing their handwritten time logs with tickets for loads of asphalt paid for by the City of Ecorse, they found two outside jobs that they said they're absolutely sure were billed to Ecorse.
One was a parking lot at a Southfield car dealership that was done last August 6th. Records show the City of Ecorse paid nearly $47,000 to ABC Paving for labor and materials that day. And the material used on the dealership parking lot was a higher grade material than the city was using for pavement patching. The asphalt used, grades 3-C and 4-C, was the grade specified in the dealership’s paving contract but Ecorse was using a cheaper grade for its pavement patching work.
"The (asphalt delivery) tickets were being billed to the city of Ecorse,” said one of the former ABC employees.
"You saw them?” I asked.
“All of us did. All of us did. I mean it was basically my job to go up to the truck driver and collect the tickets and put them in the clip board," one of the ex-employees told 7 Action News.
The dealership work was done on Saturday. Both former ABC Paving employees say they never did pavement patching work on streets in Ecorse or any other city on a Saturday.
The second outside paving job that workers said they were certain was billed to the City of Ecorse was a parking lot at Marysville High School, sixty-five miles