DETROIT (WXYZ) — A social media request made by the Wayne County sheriff has raised eyebrows among other elected officials and appears to violate the county’s ethics ordinance, according to the former chair of the ethics board.
Earlier this month, Sheriff Raphael Washington took to Facebook to acknowledge his mother’s birthday and soliciting cash gifts, writing: “Hey family, help me celebrate my mother today...God has blessed her to see 86 years on his Earth...If any of you would like to be a blessing to mom today, feel free to cash app her,” then told Facebook friends where they could directly send her money.
Cash App is a financial platform that allows individuals to send and receive money, most often through their phones.
The posting, later confirmed by the Sheriff’s Office, was shared with 7 Action News by one of Washington’s Facebook friends.
“I’m actually surprised the Sheriff would do something like this,” said Carron Pinkins, who spent two terms on the Wayne County Ethics Board, including the last 4 years as its chair.
“My understanding is he seems like a very intelligent man, and this does seem to cross the line.”
Nearly a year ago, Washington was elected to finish the term of former Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon after he died from COVID-19.
Before he was the top vote getter last November, Washington was a career law enforcement officer with no experience in elected office.
Pinkins says by publicly soliciting for donations to his mother, Washington is allowing for individuals to potentially influence him through donations to his mother while skirting public disclosure.
“That’s the problem you have with something like this,” he said. “You do incur people who may come along and decide this is a way to curry favor. Donate to the Sheriff’s mother, large donations. That’s going to be seen (as), ‘That might get me some access to the Sheriff.’”
In 2012, Wayne County created an ethics ordinance setting standards for conduct among county leaders. It was borne out of corruption and self-dealing scandals involving then-County Executive Robert Ficano and his administration.
One of the prohibitions reads: “Except as permitted by this chapter, a person shall not offer, give, or agree to give any public servant nor shall a public servant solicit, demand, accept, or agree to accept from another person, a gratuity for themselves or for a relative or domestic partner.”
Washington's post was made on his personal Facebook page, of which there appear to be several. One lists 1,400 followers alone.
Like his official county page, his profile photo for all of them is Washington in his Sheriff’s uniform.
Sheriff’s spokesman Ed Foxworth said he did not know how much in donations the request had raised, or by whom.
He said he did not know if Washington removed the post, but multiple sources say it was taken down after 7 Action News contacted the sheriff’s office about it.
Channel 7's Ross Jones asked for an interview with Sheriff Washington about his request.
But Foxworth told said by phone that neither he nor Washington would agree to an interview because: “This is...not going to be a positive story.”
In an e-mailed statement, Foxworth said the Sheriff was simply “a son who wanted to acknowledge his mother’s birthday.” He said Washington’s request was “a private matter outside of the role and responsibilities he has” as Sheriff and, therefore, the ethics ordinances rules “do not apply.”
The county’s former ethics watchdog says otherwise.
“As soon as they see the name Ray Washington, anyone knows it’s the Wayne County Sheriff. So he can’t shed the office and say: 'I’m just asking as a son or a husband or a family member,'” Pinkins said.
“He’s the Wayne County Sheriff. And if the Wayne County Sheriff is asking you to acknowledge his mother’s birthday and to give and here’s the Cash App, it’s the Wayne County Sheriff seeming as if he’s soliciting gifts and gratuities to his mom.”
The ultimate authority on whether Sheriff Washington's request violates the ethics ordinance is the Wayne County Ethics Board itself. They only look into matters if they receive a complaint.
Contact 7 Investigator Ross Jones at email@example.com or at (248) 827-9466.