Ex Wayne Co. CFO's ties to developers warrant probe, commissioners say

Evans: CFO played no role in sale

DETROIT (WXYZ) - The sale of a Wayne County building to developers with ties to the county's former CFO has prompted calls for an investigation by Wayne County's prosecutor.

County Executive Warren Evans insists the CFO, Tony Saunders, played no role in the sale that and no rules were broken.

In April, officials closed on the $11 million sale of a county building on Temple Street in Detroit. The buyer, Temple Group Holdings, was owned in part by developers Christos Moisides and David Sutherland.

Moisides and Sutherland are also partners in Invictus Equity Group along with Wayne County's former-CFO, Saunders. According to Invictus's website, it lists Saunders as a "founding member" of the firm, which state records show was formed on March 21 while Saunders was still Wayne County's CFO.

The sale of the building was approved by Wayne County Commissioners, but Saunders' business ties to the developers weren't disclosed to the commission.  

"If I’d have known then what I know now, I’d have vetted that a lot more," said Commissioner Ray Basham (D-Taylor).

Basham, along with Commissioners Diane Webb (D-Livonia) and Glenn Anderson (D-Westland) are calling for further scrutiny into the building sale and Saunders' business ties to assure that proper protocol was followed.

"I’ve asked our legal counsel to look into it to see what possible violations she might see and see whether or not it warrants sending to the Wayne County Prosecutor," Basham said.

Also this week, Denis Martin, the president of AFSCME Local 1862, sent a letter to Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, asking that her office of Fraud and Corruption Investigation Unit dig into the deal.

While the deal was being vetted by the county commission, analysts noted several red flags even before they were aware of Saunders’ connection to the buyers. 

A commission analysis noted: “It seems that a competitive procurement process was not utilized” to select the winning bidder, adding that “the process…to sell the property was flawed” that it was even “unclear whether the offers were sealed." 

In fact, two companies bid the same price -- $11 million -- for the building. According to the commission analysis, the CEO's office provided no explanation for why the offer made by the group linked to Saunders was favored.

Tony Saunders left Wayne County as its fulltime CFO in June, but continues to work for the county as a project manager paid $133/hr. He has declined repeated requests for an on-camera interview and has refused to answer questions via e-mail. He provided the following statement:

640 Temple was sold by the Wayne County Land Bank through an open, competitive bidding process that resulted in a winning bid of $11 million last September.  I have no ownership in the building and did not oversee its sale.

Last month, Saunders was hired as interim CFO for Detroit Public Schools at a rate of $25,000 a month.

Contact 7 Investigator Ross Jones at ross.jones@wxyz.com or at (248) 827-9466.

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