DETROIT (WXYZ) - When it came to photo ops, Bob Ficano was the master. Not long ago, he was a man in demand: cutting ribbons, posing for pictures, and pressing the flesh with the president.
What a difference a year makes.
Once we exposed his top aide's secret $200,000 severance, Ficano went from kingmaker to kryptonite, almost overnight. Other politicians kept their distance. And the president? He's hasn't been seen near Ficano since.
Ficano pled for forgiveness; it never came. Mullin was fired from Metro Airport, and Deputy CEO Azzam Elder was gone, too. Then, 7 Action News uncovered more severance deals. CFO Carla Sledge netted $76,000 without even having to leave her job. Deputy Azzam Elder was set to get one for $350,000. That all got our attention, but it also got someone else's: the FBI.
The feds raided Wayne County last October in wake of our reports, and in subpoenas, they laid out their targets: Elder, Mullin, and County IT Chief Tahir Kazmi. Months later, Kazmi would be indicted for shaking down a county contractor for $80,000 in cash, trips to Turkey and Orlando and more.
Kazmi would later plead guilty to taking bribes. He'll spend up to five years in federal prison. So far, Elder and Mullin haven't been charged.
But Former county official Michael Grundy has--earleir this year, he was charged with squeezing a county vendor for $50,000 a month. The feds say he and his friend Keith Griffin organized a kickback scheme to steal a million bucks from a county insurance program, at the same time Grundy was one of Ficano's top aides. Griffin was quick to take a plea deal that'll put him in prison for up to almost 4 years.
Grundy says he's innocent.
And then came the lawsuits, lots of them, from former employees who said the county was crooked. What's that cost taxpayers? Just to defend itself from all those suits, plus the cost of the FBI's probe so far, the county is on the hook for up to $544,000.
So far, they've paid out only about $315,000.
But the highest cost of all: Michigan's biggest county has become a punch line, synonymous with allegations of corruption. And happening just down the street, Kwame Kilpatrick's on trial for the same kinds of things.
"I've been in public office for 25 years," Ficano said in 2010. "I'm not Kwame Kilpatrick."
No, he's not. But as scandal continues to swirl, they're beginning to have a lot more in common.