The G-men are back.
And so too, apparently, are the bad old days of Detroit corruption that never really did go away.
FBI agents in blue windbreakers and sunglasses surrounded city hall in an early morning raid Wednesday, their focus on two city council members: Scott Benson and Janeé Ayers. Meanwhile, dozens of other agents spread out across town to zipper off the councilmembers' homes while they seized computers and paperwork. They also raided the east side home of Benson's chief of staff.
The raids come in the wake of the arraignment of Detroit City Coucilman Andre Spivey earlier this month for conspircacy to commit bribery. He is accused of taking $35,000 in exchange for upcoming votes. He is expected to plead guilty next month.
Spivey's humiliation came three months after City Councilman Gabe Leland, a notorious mooch with holes in his pants pockets, vacated his council seat after pleading guilty in May to taking cash, free lunches and new quarter panels from a Detroit businessman.
What the feds were looking for in the homes of Ayers and Benson is unclear, but comes in the wake of a long-running demolition investigation and the disappearance of millions of federal dollars. It may also be related to the long-running towing scam caught on federal wiretaps that has led to multiple convictions, including that of a deputy chief of police.
Two of Spivey's colleagues believe he may have been wearing a wire, since his lawyer confirmed he has been cooperating with the feds for more than a year.
Top FBI agent at City Hall
It is not insignificant that Tim Waters, the special agent in charge of the FBI Detroit field office was at City Hall Wednesday morning. During a brief press conference, Waters refused to clarify the bureau's reasons for the day's proceedings, or why the FBI would conduct such highly visible raids so close to the November municipal elections.
Needless to say, nobody saw them coming.
Mayor Mike Duggan was holding his cabinet meeting, as is customary on Wednesday, when the cellphones of his staff started pinging with news that the feds were raiding the homes of Ayers and Benson.
The staff meeting was carried out to its conclusion. When cabinet members took the elevator to the ground floor, only then did they realize City Hall had been raided, when they were greeted by a buzzing hive of federal agents.
And woe be to Duggan. Ayers, Benson, Spivey and Leland constituted his sure-fire voting bloc on every pet piece of legislation, from demolition bonds to towing contracts to marijuana licenses. Almost no business of significance is likely to get done until a new council is sworn in next January.
Those close to the mayor said they do not believe he is a target of the federal authorities. They were perplexed, however, by the FBI's show of force.
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And woe be to the people of Detroit who can't seem to catch a break and can't get free of the sticky political fingers strangling the life out of them.
Consider: the council has been a laughingstock for the better part of two decades. Kay Everett once demanded 17 pounds of sausage to go along with her $150,000 bribe. Lonnie Bates used the public's money to pay his girlfriend and her daughter for work they never did. Monica Conyers liked to take cash envelopes in the Mr. Fish parking lot almost as much as she liked the sandwiches themselves. One-time council president Charles Pugh absconded to New York to avoid pedophilia charges, as the city was on the verge of bankruptcy. Pugh is expected to be paroled in December.
And now this.
So, Detroit will have two empty seats and another two up in the air, with Ayers running for an at-large seat, and Benson unopposed. Should Ayers drop out of the race, the woman most likely to take her place is Mary Waters, who pled guilty in 2010 to filing a fraudulent tax return for her role in a bribery and extortion scheme.
Whatever the future holds, the events of Wednesday morning show how very little has changed in Comeback City. Politicians still put self service above public service.
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