Schuette Announces Bribery Convictions Against Two Corrupt City of Detroit InspectorsContact: Joy Yearout 517-373-8060
February 25, 2014
LANSING - Attorney General Bill Schuette today announced two City of Detroit building and electrical inspectors have pleaded guilty to bribery charges for looking the other way when construction projects endangered public and when the proper building permits were not obtained.
Phil Lockhart, 57, of Detroit, and Delos Matthews, 54, of Farmington Hills, both pleaded guilty to one count of Employee Accepting a Bribe before Wayne County 36th District Court Judge Kevin Robbins on December 10, 2013. Lockart accepted a $300 cash bribe to ignore the Detroit's permit requirement for a residential construction project performed by a contractor. Matthews accepted a $200 cash bribe to approve electric circuits in a rental property that did not meet electrical code and ignore other electrical code violations, creating a potential fire risk for future tenants.
Today, Judge Robbins sentenced Lockhart to two years probation serving the first 120 days on tethered house arrest, 25 hours community service and he must pay court costs and fees. Judge Robbins sentenced Mathews to two years probation, 40 hours of community service and he must pay court costs and fees.
"Public safety officials who accept bribes and ignore their duties undermine safety for everyone," said Schuette. "Detroit needs more safety, not less, and that starts with public officials doing their job instead of lining their pockets."
The case originated from an investigation by the FBI-Led Detroit Area Public Corruption Task Force in collaboration with the Michigan Attorney General's Public Integrity Unit.
"When public officials abuse their positions of trust for personal gain, they will be held accountable for their criminal acts," said Paul M. Abbate, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Detroit Field Office. "The FBI and its law enforcement partners on the Detroit Area Public Corruption Task Force are fully committed to ensuring our citizens are served by the honest government they deserve."
"Public corruption at any level will not be tolerated. Public employees who are in charge of the community's welfare must be held to a higher standard and when those employees jeopardize the safety of Detroiters for their own personal gain then they must suffer the consequences. The bribery convictions of the city of Detroit Inspectors should be an example that crime in the city of Detroit does not pay," said James E. Craig, Detroit Chief of Police.
Criminal cases remain pending against five current and former Detroit Building Safety Engineering and Environmental Department inspectors Schuette charged in August 2013 for allegedly accepting bribes in exchange for ignoring their duty to enforce city building, zoning, electrical, and plumbing codes. Schuette filed felony bribery charges against current and former inspectors Eric Miller, 50, of Detroit, John Jones, 54, of Detroit, Bob Watson, 52, of Dearborn, and Kenneth Russ, 53, of Detroit, and Moreno Taylor, 53, of Livonia. A copy of the original complaint detailing the pending charges can be accessed on the Attorney General's website: http://www.michigan.gov/documents/ag/DBSEED_Complaint_432426_7.pdf.
The Detroit Building Safety Engineering and Environmental Department is the city department responsible for inspecting and certifying that residential and commercial buildings meet ordinances and the building code. Its mission is to provide for the "safety, health, welfare and improvement of quality of life of the general public relative to buildings and their environments in an efficient, cost effective, user-friendly and professional manner."
Investigation Revealed Inspectors Ignored Responsibility to Protect Public
From 2008 to 2013 a Detroit Area Public Corruption Task Force investigation revealed instances of several City inspectors alleged to have frequently solicited, accepted, and, in some cases demanded bribes from local contractors and property owners. Rather than issuing citations, corrupt inspectors allegedly asked to be "taken care of" and then looked the other way when they received a cash bribe. It is alleged the bribes range from approximately $200 to $3,000. Further investigation revealed some inspectors solicited and accepted bribes in exchange for disregarding building violations more than 50 times.
Electrical, plumbing, building, and zoning codes were allegedly approved as compliant, even though inspectors failed to fulfill their duty to complete a thorough safety and compliance inspection when violations persisted. In one case, a corrupt inspector allegedly ignored kitchen wiring installed at the incorrect amperage, leaving a potentially dangerous fire hazard for future tenants unaddressed.
In another instance, a business owner needed city approval to change the use of his business, and a licensed architect's drawing was required. Inspector John Jones, who was not licensed, allegedly drew up the changes himself and charged the business owner for it without revealing who did the work. He then allegedly told other city officials the property was sufficiently large for the zoning change, that changes had been made, and that it complied with other city ordinances and laws. In reality, the property was too small for the use and the changes were never made. For his conduct, Jones faces the additional charge of Misconduct in Office, a five-year felony.
Upon taking office in 2011, Attorney General Schuette launched a new Public Integrity Unit (PIU) in the Attorney General's office to ratchet up the fight against corruption in state and local government, protect tax dollars and restore the public's trust in government. The unit is a member of the multi-agency Detroit Area Public Corruption Task Force. Since the unit's inception, Schuette has filed a total of 251 charges against 52 defendants. To date, 38 defendants have been sentenced following their convictions on a total of 116 charges.
A criminal charge is merely an accusation and the defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty.