How did Ficano's ethics watchdog miss Wayne County's biggest scandal ever?

Probed sewage issues, squatters during crisis

DETROIT (WXYZ) - Bob Ficano promised to be different. 

With his predecessor Ed McNamara's administration awash in scandal, Ficano announced in 2003 that he would create an inspector general's office to ensure clean government.  Ficano's own website says the position is authorized to "detect and…deter…fraud, waste and abuse…in county government". 

In 2009 he appointed Mary Rose MacMillan, a donor to his many campaigns, to be his chief watchdog.  She's collected more than $650,000 in salary and benefits, all while an FBI probe into the county has netted five criminal charges for alleged crimes ranging from obstruction of justice to bribery. 

We wanted to ask MacMillan about all the questions that she never did, questions that could have stopped all the county scandals before they ever started.

"How did you miss everything that's been going on in the county," asked 7 Action News Investigator Ross Jones to MacMillan. 

She gave no answer the morning we caught up with her outside her home.  Earlier in the week, she declined a sit-down interview.

7 Action News obtained a copy of MacMIllan's most recent report.  It shows that many of the issues she investigated had virtually nothing to do with Wayne County government.

Around the same time her boss Bob Ficano was handing out secrets severance deals, MacMillan's report says she was hot on the trail of "sewage complaints."

The same year the FBI says a top Ficano aide shook down a vendor for cash and exotic trips, the inspector general was busy digging into "neighborhood disputes."

During the same time period that the feds say another top Ficano aide extorted a county vendor for $50,000 a month, MacMillan was busy chasing down "squatters."

County Commissioners say it's proof that the position wasn't meant to dig for real corruption in the first place.  They want the funding moved to Prosecutor Kym Worthy's office, whose attorneys prosecute real crimes every day.

In fact, in MacMillan's three years as inspector general, her digging has netted a grand total of one conviction from the Wayne County Prosecutor.  It put someone on probation for a crime that had nothing to do with county government: embezzlement at a seafood restaurant.

She's been more consistent in writing checks to Ficano's campaign: 12 since 2003, totaling more than $5,000.

Bob Ficano said no to an interview.  Only Deputy CEO Jeffrey Collins spoke to us for this story.  He's been with Wayne County for only 8 months. He said MacMillan is doing her best, though he struggled defending her record.

"One conviction over three years ... seems kind of sad," Jones said to Collins.

"Again…the purpose of this office…of the inspector general is to…analyze, review complaints that come in," Collins responded. 

And while lots of the cases she digs into have nothing to do with government, some do.  Last year, he said MacMillan helped to uncover gas fraud among county employees.  If she failed to respond to the alleged criminal activity going on within the county building… Collins blames county employees for not telling her.

"Are we paying her to sit around and wait for people to come to her with complaints ... Shouldn't she be inspecting, as the inspector general? Not just waiting for a call?" Jones asked.

 "She is inspecting within the role that's been defined.  She's not inspecting within the confines of a federal agent," Collins responded. 

"But  you can ask questions," Jones said.

"She can ask questions," Collins responded.

Which brings us back to MacMillan.  She wouldn't sit down for an interview either, so we found her at home, doing what critics say she hasn't been doing at the county: taking out the trash. 

"How did you miss everything that's been going on in the county," Jones asked MacMillan.

She gave no answer.

Ficano's office tells 7 Action News that they recently approved funding an inspector general's office that's under the Wayne County Prosecutor's control. 

If you have a tip for the 7 Action News Investigators, contact us at tips@wxyz.com or at (248) 827-9466.

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