Sheriff Benny Napoleon resists reimbursing Wayne County for using county vehicle on campaign trail

DETROIT (WXYZ) - Sheriff Benny Napoleon won't commit to reimbursing Wayne County taxpayers for his use of a county vehicle during his failed mayoral campaign, months after promising he would.

The Sheriff acknowledged to 7 Action News Investigator Ross Jones that he used his county vehicle to campaign, and initially said it was proper.

"I’m still the sheriff.  I still have responsibilities to respond." Napoleon said. "The President campaigned and he used a plane…because he’s still the President."

But even the President reimburses taxpayers when he uses Air Force One for politics. The day after we interviewed Napoleon last November, he did an about face and issued a press release that said it’s important that “no taxpayer dollars were used” to fund his campaign travel, and he promised he’ll “rectify the matter immediately.”  

He said he’ll pay whatever amount the county’s auditor says he owes taxpayers.

Now, Napoleon knows the amount, but is changing his mind again. According to his spokeswoman, the amount in question is “about $3,000.”  But a source with direct knowledge of the auditor general’s investigation says that the real number is even greater than that, but wouldn’t be specific.

Napoleon now says he won't reimburse taxpayers until the county's ethics board weighs in.  In a statement, his spokeswoman said even when Napoleon was on the campaign trail, he still “actively served as Sheriff and conducted his duties each day.”

Napoleon’s vehicle usage was revealed as part of a larger 7 Action News investigation into gas cards used by Wayne County Sheriff’s employees.   Our report highlighted James Spivey, a county lawyer who said he mostly worked in his downtown office.

But records we obtained show he was filling up his take-home county vehicle as much as 13 times a month, enough to travel about 4,000 miles: the distance from Detroit to Las Vegas, and back.

Today, Spivey has had his keys taken away. He no longer has a vehicle he can take home everyday, but the Sheriff insists it’s not a result of our investigation. His spokeswoman says the department was already reviewing its take-home vehicle usage policy.

Now that Spivey’s not behind the wheel as much, that means he’ll be less likely to get into accidents: he was involved in at least three in under 18 months, costing taxpayers $9,715.  The county insists none of the collisions were his fault.

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


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