SOURCES: Ficano deputy, others spend county time raising campaign money, organizing political events

DETROIT (WXYZ) - The FBI says it's being flooded with new leads on its expanding investigation into Wayne County, and tonight, multiple sources are telling us what the feds should be looking into, if they're not already. 

Has Robert Ficano's administration been running a campaign fundraising operation out of the county's headquarters?  Absolutely, say multiple sources, and at the center of it all is Assistant County CEO Nader Fakhouri.

The sources, with direct knowledge of the county's campaign operation, say Fakhouri and a team of other appointees have violated campaign laws by spending county time doing political work.  It includes raising money for Ficano's campaign fund, his political action committee, and his own charity, the Robert Ficano HOPE Foundation.

Each of the funds are flush with cash.  Ficano's campaign fund raised $1.7 million in last year's election cycle.  His political action committee has raked in $432,945, making it the third largest of its kinds in the state. And Ficano's charity took in almost $94,000.

As Ficano's chief fundraiser, sources say Fakhouri rarely performs real county work. One source who required anonymity for fear of retribution said: "Nader Fakhouri directs staff in political and charitable fundraising…Much of the work is done during normal business hours."

According to another source familiar with Fakhouri's work schedule, he spends his time "meeting and having lunch with people who write checks, picking up checks and attending to the needs (of) the people who write those checks. Nader sometimes meets with the executive staff and sometimes has other tasks, but his main job duty … is to deal with the day to day requirements that come with raising the money."

Law experts say that would violate Michigan's campaign finance rules, which prohibit employees paid with taxpayer money from performing any political work while on their taxpayer funded jobs. Fakhouri's $140,000 a year salary is paid out of the county's technology department.

"If someone's working a substantial portion of their day on a campaign, that would appear to violate the campaign finance statute," said former federal prosecutor Peter Henning. 

Henning says while violations like the ones alleged could be of interest to the FBI and the state.  The penalty is stiff: up to one year in prison. 

"Any prosecutor would want to have eyewitness testimony.  Usually the way these cases are made involving campaign finance or more generally governmental corruption is to get the cooperation of someone who was involved," he said.

Reached by phone, Fakhouri said he has never done political work on county time.  He says he's recovering from a health ailment, and is currently on vacation from his county job.  County officials are also denying the allegations, calling them "absolutely false."

County spokeswoman Brooke Blackwell provided timecards for Fakhouri. Over a three-month period, they show he worked mostly 8 hour days.  Blackwell says Fakhouri and his team do perform county work like: attending budget meetings, managing community outreach programs for seniors, and working on the county's deficit reduction plan. 

Fakhouri's sister has financially benefitted from Ficano's campaigns.  Campaign records for his political action committee show that it's doled out tens of thousands of dollars to an IT company based in Troy.  The company is registered to Fakhouri's sister Najwa, and has received payments over the last three years totaling more than $93,000.  Ficano's campaign fund has also paid the company even more: another $131,000 since 2009.  Filings show that the company performs "consulting" for the campaign.  We went to the company to talk to the owner.  All we found was a post office box at a UPS Store in Troy.

Ficano's administration has been accused of breaking the law before on this very issue. In 2006, a former Wayne county employee filed suit against Ficano, saying she was fired for refusing to raise funds on county time.  That case was settled out of court.

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

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