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New Attorney General's Program Aims to Weed Out Corruption: The 'Public Integrity Unit' has already filed 41 charges of public corruption

LIAM MARTIN, WILX

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 23, 2011

LANSING -- A Department of Human Services employee accused in February of food stamp fraud.

Then in March, a Highland Park charter school treasurer charged with purchasing home with school funds, and a River Rouge city council president accused of accepting a $5,000 bribe.

Most recently -- Brian Hengesbach, a DHS worker, facing four felony charges of embezzlement -- all of them charged by Attorney General Bill Schuette's new "Public Integrity Unit."

"We're gonna make sure that everyone knows, that in Michigan, we are looking to stomp out corruption at all levels of government," said AG communications director John Sellek.

The PIU has filed 41 corruption charges against about 10 government employees in a matter of months.

"To know that any dollar that comes to Lansing, that is so hard to come by, could be lost to greed or corruption -- is just a kick in the stomach," Sellek said, noting the office has rerouted some workers from other departments to the PIU.

Hengesbach, due to be arraigned Thursday, stands accused of buying some $4,750 worth of office supplies with DHS funds, then either keeping the items or selling them and pocketing the cash.

And the punishment, if he's convicted, could be severe.

"Because of his position of public trust, high up in the government, we were able to apply another charge that expands that to a maximum of 20 years," Sellek told News 10 Wednesday.

Similar penalties face the others accused by the Public Integrity Unit (none of whom has yet stood trial) -- a harsh reminder of how seriously those crimes are taken, especially when committed by government workers.

"No matter what you have done," Sellek said, "we're gonna try to bring you to justice."