DETROIT (WXYZ) - Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano has been under fire ever since the 7 Action News Investigators exposed how one of his top aides got $200,000 in severance just to quit for a better job.
Thursday Ficano faces a formal request from the Wayne County Commission to step down.
The federal investigation into alleged corruption in Wayne County may be moving quickly – but it’s far from over.
The FBI is still gathering materials and information – and now Robert Ficano is facing even more pressure to resign.
In less than a week – two guilty pleas have rocked Wayne County government.
“What do you have to say to the taxpayers of Wayne County,” 7 Action News Investigator Heather Catallo asked former Deputy Chief Information Officer David Edwards outside federal court.
Edwards pleaded guilty Monday to accepting a $13,000 cash bribe from a private IT vendor.
Last Friday, Keith Griffin – a long-time friend of former Deputy County Executive Michael Grundy – pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit wire fraud as part of a kickback scheme.
Both men are expected to cooperate with the federal probe – and could end up testifying against former friends and colleagues.
Ever since the 7 Action News Investigators broke the story of a secret severance deal last September – major players in Robert Ficano’s administration have fallen like dominoes.
“Will you give the money back,” Catallo asked Turkia Mullin last September.
“I earned it, absolutely not,” said Mullin.
The county’s former economic development chief did have to give her $200,000 golden parachute from the taxpayers back – and eventually got fired from her new job as Metro Airport CEO.
Former Deputy CEO Azzam Elder resigned in the wake of the Mullin scandal – and his own secret severance deal of up to $350,000 was later revealed as part of Elder’s whistleblower lawsuit against the county.
Both Elder and Mullin have been named in FBI subpoenas, demanding records from Ficano’s administration.
Federal prosecutors have also charged the former chief of the county’s IT department, Tahir Kazmi, with bribery, extortion, and obstruction for allegedly shaking down a contractor.
Former IT appointee Zayd Alleban is charged with obstruction. And a federal grand jury indicted Michael Grundy – the former head of Wayne County Health Choice for extortion.
Since we exposed the severance scandal – there have been 7 high profile resignations, four people have been fired, and the county’s top lawyer was demoted. Several other appointees have also left to get away from an administration investigation.
“What the government has done to this point is, they have moved from the outside in. And the next step in the process is to work up the ladder,” said Wayne State University Law Professor Peter Henning, who used to be a federal prosecutor. Henning says now the feds are pressuring the lower level workers to see how high up the food chain the corruption extends.
“The U.S. Attorney’s office is pushing this case hard. And so the message has gone out now, with these types of plea agreements, that this is the best time to make a deal,” said Henning.
“That’ll be interesting to see if they can get the big dogs, and who the big dogs are,” said Wayne County Commission Chair Pro-Tem Laura Cox.
Cox says there have been enough criminal charges for her to formally call for Robert Ficano’s resignation – whether he knew about the bribes and alleged kick-backs or not.
“I get stopped every day, Walgreens, Costco, and people say, you keep going, you keep fighting. People are frustrated, they’re frustrated what they read in the papers, what Channel 7 is bringing to the news every day, it’s just new drama every day, and we’re just fed up,” said Cox, who’s the lone Republican on the Commission.
On Thursday morning, Cox will introduce this resolution during the Commission meeting. It asks Robert Ficano to put the County first – and “immediately vacate the Office of the Wayne County Chief Executive Officer.”
“How much support do you think you have,” asked Catallo.
“Behind closed doors, people tell me unanimous. But you know, it’s just hard to say. Politics is a funny thing, and sometimes people are very afraid to do the right thing,” said Cox.
If the resolution passes, Ficano doesn’t have to comply with it. But it will be a clear sign that he’ll have a much harder time getting county business done with the Commission.
“I think that makes a very strong statement to Bob Ficano – the elected representatives of the county commission are giving you a vote of no confidence,” said Cox.
Robert Ficano issued this written statement to 7 Action News:
We’ve made a lot of progress since Commissioner Cox proposed a similar resolution last February. We’ve rebuilt our team. Economic development efforts are bearing fruit. We’re working hard to bring spending in line with diminishing revenue. Commissioner Cox looks to be playing election year politics and ignoring the substantive changes in my administration since last