Corrupt Officials' Time is Up, Detroit FBI Chief Says
The Detroit Free Press by M.L. Elrick and David Ashenfelter - March 2, 2012
The FBI's top official in Detroit declared war on public corruption Thursday, hours after law enforcement officials announced a new task force to combat it. Andrew Arena, special agent in charge of the Detroit office of the FBI, called corruption in the region "generational, systematic, part of the culture." "It takes a whole lot to penetrate that," he said. "It's kind of like a war. You penetrate the enemy's defenses." Arena declined to name the enemies he was referring to, saying he could not talk about ongoing investigations. He has overseen investigations of ex-Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, as well as Wayne County government under County Executive Robert Ficano. "You see what's out there," he said, in an apparent reference to news media coverage of federal investigations of Detroit and Wayne County government. On Tuesday, federal prosecutors unsealed an indictment of a former treasurer for Detroit, who is accused of taking bribes to support pension investment deals. Last month, prosecutors charged Wayne County's former chief technology officer with shaking down an IT contractor for cash, trips and perks for his family. Arena called public corruption "our No. 1 criminal priority right now." He spoke to reporters from his office on the 26th floor of the McNamara Federal Building in downtown Detroit. The office looks out on the Detroit River, as well as southwest Detroit, where Arena grew up. He said the task force announced Thursday has been working together for a few months. Though law enforcement agencies traditionally have cooperated, he said it was "groundbreaking to put this many agencies together." "We all bring a different set of tools," Arena said.
In addition to the FBI, the task force includes federal prosecutors, the IRS, the Michigan Attorney General's Office, the State Police, Detroit police and federal housing, environmental protection and transportation investigators. "Public corruption robs citizens of the honest government we deserve," U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said in a statement announcing the task force. Erick Martinez, special agent in charge of the criminal investigations division of the IRS in Detroit, said in the statement: "The individuals who commit these crimes are driven by greed and have no regret for their selfish actions." Comments from other members of the Detroit Public Corruption Task Force included in the statement focused on the impact public corruption has on people. Breck Nowlin, special agent in charge of the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Office of the Inspector General in Detroit, said: "The abuse of public office ... steals from the very programs designed to protect our cities and neighborhoods and selfishly takes valuable government services from those who need them most." Randall Ashe, special agent in charge of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's criminal investigations division in Detroit, said public corruption kills. "Because exposure to asbestos, lead and hazardous waste can be fatal, our public leaders must ensure that construction work is carried out properly and by the most qualified people and companies, not by those looking to 'pay to play.' " In an interview, Arena said he wants investigations to move more quickly than the Detroit corruption probe, which took several years to result in criminal charges. He predicted that the Wayne County investigation would be done much sooner. He said investigators owe a speedy resolution not only to taxpayers, but to the people under suspicion "to either bring charges or clear their names." Arena also harkened back to a comment he made in June 2009, on the day then-Detroit City Councilwoman Monica Conyers pleaded guilty to taking bribes. "We're coming after you," he said at a news conference. "Look over your shoulder. Look under your bed. Look in your closet. We're coming after you." He said he took some guff afterward, but now that a slew of other Detroit officials have been indicted, he added: "I don't think anybody's laughing anymore." "We've got people on the run," Arena said. "We've got the community behind us." Staff writer Jim Schaefer contributed to this report. Contact M.L. Elrick: 313-222-6582 or firstname.lastname@example.org