Earlier this summer, Wayne County was forced to close several bridges after the 7 Investigators showed you how those bridges had serious structural concerns and heavy vehicles were not following the weight restrictions.
Now we’re learning more about the man who was supposed to be inspecting those risky bridges.
In this Getting Around Metro Detroit Investigation, we’ve learned that the bridge inspector was fired for falsifying records and neglect of duty. He’s also part of a federal probe for his role as a private demolition contractor, a county criminal case – and he’s been in trouble with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
Many of the bridges in Michigan are aging and crumbling, including several in Wayne County.
County and state officials say the man who was responsible for checking many of those bridges wasn’t doing the federally required inspections.
“It’s a big concern. I think we all assume that it was being done because there’s money there to do those inspections and the feds require those inspections to be done,” said Wayne County Commissioner Glenn Anderson (D-Westland).
That former bridge inspector is Timothy Drakeford, and he’s been in and out of the news for years.
Not only was he working as an engineer for Wayne County, the 48-year-old also runs Direct Construction Services, LLC.
Drakeford was even questioned on camera in a 7 Action News story about dirt that was improperly dumped in a Detroit neighborhood back in 2016.
In June 2018, after the 7 Investigators revealed that even the county’s own vehicles were not following weight restrictions on the Hines Drive bridges, Wayne County closed them.
Drakeford’s name is on the inspection sheets for those bridges and others. The description of the bridge condition looks exactly the same on every 2-year inspection on many of the forms.
“When MDOT pulled random bridge inspections and showed us the information, it was beyond a shadow of a doubt that that information didn’t reflect the condition of the bridges, and that was just an unacceptable situation for us,” said Wayne County Communications Director Jim Martinez.
Wayne County records show, in early 2017, the Federal Highway Administration, which ultimately regulates bridges, warned the state that Wayne County’s bridge inspection problems were “of major proportions” and the county’s “federal funding for the year was at stake.”
County records also show that a meeting with Michigan Department of Transportation and county officials revealed that 72 of the county’s 232 bridges had not even been inspected at all.
Martinez says that discovery forced the county to hire five contractors for exigent inspections of 140 bridges to verify their condition, which cost $120,854.45.
The county also fired Timothy Drakeford for “falsifying records” and “neglect of duty.”
And that’s not all they did – they also sent what they uncovered to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office.
“We’re acting in adherence with the [county’s] fraud ordinance, and I can’t comment any further,” Martinez told 7 Investigator Heather Catallo.
Wayne County’s fraud ordinance places “all elected and appointed officials, directors, officers and employees of the county on notice that wrongdoing of a criminal nature must be reported directly to the county prosecutor.”
Neither Drakeford nor his attorney would agree to an on-camera interview, but he told Catallo on the phone that he was instructed by his supervisors at the county to “copy and paste” the information on those bridge inspections.
Drakeford insists he’s been warning Wayne County for years about the bad condition of the bridges, but claims they wouldn’t listen to him, and would not give him the right resources to do his job.
The county denies that.
“He was overseeing the information about the bridges, and that should have been a red flag. It’s his job to make sure that information is accurate and up to date, not just from year to year copied over,” said Martinez.
The Wayne County Prosecutor confirms they do have an active investigation into a former Wayne County bridge inspector. Tim Drakeford says he doesn’t know anything about that investigation.
But this isn’t the first time he’s been under scrutiny.
Drakeford’s Direct Construction once had contracts with the Detroit Land Bank Authority to demolish homes. Detroit’s Inspector General found that Drakeford had falsified pictures of sidewalk repairs, which got him banned as a Land Bank contractor.
“Based on Mr. Drakeford’s actions, the DLBA should not allow Direct Construction to do work for the City of Detroit’s demolition program,” said Detroit Inspector General James Heath in his February 1, 2017 investigation report.
Drakeford is now suing the Land Bank and the City of Detroit, alleging race discrimination.
Timothy Drakeford also says he’s a cooperating FBI witness for the federal probe into the Detroit Land Bank and says he has testified in front of the grand jury. He denied being a target of the probe.
In his lawsuit, Drakeford alleges Land Bank officials instructed him “to change bidding and cost numbers after the initial invoicing to reflect compliance under” federal guidelines. He’s also claiming Detroit Land Bank employees “acted in concert to allege and create a bogus picture fraud by Plaintiff Drakeford.”
Detroit Corporation Counsel Lawrence Garcia released this statement to 7 Action News about the lawsuit:
The OIG [Office of Inspector General] found that not only did Mr. Drakeford personally manipulate a photo of a demolition site to conceal tires that had not been removed from the lot, but also gave information that was not truthful to the OIG's investigators. For the penalties issued with respect to these matters, the DLBA, the DBA and the City followed the recommendations of the independently appointed Inspector General. These facts more than justify the City's actions, and Mr. Drakeford's claims are just sour grapes.
Drakeford was doing demolition for the Detroit Land Bank at the same time that he was working in his $55,561 a year Engineer 3 job for Wayne County. He did have approval starting in 2016 from the county for outside employment.
Starting in April of 2016, Drakeford and his Direct Construction Services, LLC started receiving asbestos violations notices from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Between 2016 and 2018, MDEQ officials say Drakeford received at least 6 violation notices, but only two of those violations turned into an escalated enforcement action.
MDEQ records show on May 31, 2018, Drakeford agreed to enter into a Consent Order “to resolve outstanding state and federal air quality violations.” Under the Order, Drakeford must pay the State of Michigan $10,000. So far, Drakeford and his attorney have not signed the agreement.
The Hines Drive bridges first exposed by the 7 Investigators in June are still shut down. Martinez says they have designs complete to improve the structural integrity of the bridges, but the county is waiting for permits from the MDEQ.
“There’s some water around those bridges which requires a different level of permitting, so we’re going through that process,” said Martinez. “That will be a several week process. And then we think after we get that, the repairs to those bridges would be six weeks or so.”
“There’s a very serious concern, I think a very valid concern that some of these bridges are going to possibly collapse down the road. The County needs to be getting ahead of that before something major happens, and also making sure those bridges are structurally sound enough to carry emergency equipment back and forth, so our fire departments can take their equipment across those,” said Comm. Anderson.
“About 165 bridges are in good, fair shape and higher. But there are a lot of bridges we continue to inspect and continue to monitor, and that’s going to come with a price tag,” said Martinez. “We’ve also added a position into the bridge inspection area in Department of Public Services to bolster our resources there. And then when you go global picture, holistically for bridges as a whole, we’ve got an RFP out now with a 10-year strategic plan with our roads and bridges.”
If you have a story for Heather, please email her at email@example.com or call 248-827-4473.