Ex-Ficano aide's ties to developer concern HUD officials; county asked to return $850k grant

(WXYZ) - Concerns by the Department of Housing and Urban Development over a developer's close ties to Robert Ficano's office could cost Wayne County an $850,000 grant.

For more than a year, HUD officials have been looking into a development deal in Inkster, where federal funds were secured through Robert Ficano's office.

Lansing developer Ron Boji's company benefited from more than $1.5 million in federal funds to develop the sprawling Inkster Marketplace along Michigan Avenue.

In a December letter, HUD officials asked the county to return $850,000 in grant money because of Boji's strong ties to then Assistant County CEO Nader Fakhouri.

Fakhouri, who is Boji's brother-in-law, received a 20% stake in the building Boji was paid to construct. The Wayne County Commission, which had to sign off on the project, didn't know about Fakhouri's stake in the building either.

"We've never received any paperwork that shows Nader Fakhouri had an interest in this," Commissioner Kevin McNamara said.

"It would have raised a huge red flag."

HUD issued their own red flag, deeming it a "conflict of interest" and saying Fakhouri was "…in a position to potentially influence funding…" that went to him and his family.

Boji declined to talk to 7 Action News, but his spokesman said the developer acted properly and violated no rules. 

"Lawyers were consulted every step of the way to make sure everything was done absolutely appropriately," said John Truscott.

As for Fakhouri, Truscott says he only became a stakeholder after the county offered it federal funds, and disclosed it in an annual filing.

"Once that interest was granted to him, that's when he filed the disclosure," Truscott said.

But records show Fakhouri wasn't complete in his disclosure. In 2010, he said that he had a "passive minority" ownership in a nameless Inkster property, but not say what it was. 

18-months later,  he disclosed its name. By then, Boji already sold the building to the Wayne County Building Authority. 

"He had no responsibilities with economic development and no responsibilities with any of the work that was being done through the HUD project," said Economic Development Chief Ray Byers.

"He had no decision making authority whatsoever."

That may all be true, but if Fakhouri really had nothing to do with the project, why did he attend the building's ribbon cutting?  A picture obtained by 7 Action News shows Fakhouri joined his brother-in-law, Ficano and others on stage.

"Do you know where Nader is now?" asked Ross Jones.

"I have no idea," Byers responded.

"Want to take a guess?" Jones asked.

"At home," Byers said. 
Not exactly. He left the Ficano administration last year, and was hired by the Boji Group. The website says he's overseeing projects valued at up to several hundred million dollars.

"Isn't is a little odd that the company this guy is suspected of helping turns around and hires him shortly after he's out of work?" Jones asked.

"They hired him for his I.T. expertise," Truscott said.

"It just so happens his expertise fits with this, and he's obviously someone they're familiar with."

HUD also alleges that Boji made too much money on the deal, but the county and Boji both dispute that.

7 Action News has learned that Fakhouri did recuse himself from a Wayne County Economic Development meeting when the building project came up in discussion, but didn't say why. 

Ficano's spokeswoman believes that the county won't have to pay back the $850,000 grant, even though HUD hasn't changed its stance.  

Fakhouri would not say how much he made on this deal, but said in an unrelated deposition that he reported about $800,000 in income for the year of the sale.

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

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