FBI investigation could slow other probes into Wayne County severance scandal

Oct 21, 2011

A new FBI probe into Wayne County government may hamper the County Commissions’ effort to investigate the compensation of appointed employees.

The Commission’s Special Committee on appointee compensation met again Thursday. They expected to hear about an internal review by County Executive Robert Ficano’s office.

That review is looking into how former economic development director Turkia Awada Mullin got a $200,000 severance to leave that and become CEO of the Wayne County Airport Authority. She has since agreed to return the money.

But assistant county executive Alan Helmkamp told the committee the FBI investigation now prevents Ficano’s office from revealing those details.

Wayne County Commissioner Laura Cox doesn’t buy that. She said Congressional committees often hold hearings on issues that other federal departments are also investigating.

“I don’t know why we can’t do that here in Wayne County,” Cox said. “That’s our job as Commissioners.”

“Mr. Ficano said ‘I want to be clear and open.’ And we’re saying ‘Be clear and open’…and he says today we can’t talk about it.”

Cox wants the Commission to subpoena Ficano and other county officials involved in the compensation scandals.

The county has also confirmed it offered lucrative retirement incentives to some top appointees who quit between December 2010 and April 2011. Ficano said this week he’ll end that program as well.

Commission chair Gary Woronchak says he understands the FBI probe limits what Ficano can say, and he doesn’t see an immediate need for subpoenas.

“He knows the era of excesses has to end, that the light is shining on Wayne County government,” Woronchak said

But Woronchak said his patience will run out at some point if the Commission doesn’t get more of its questions answered.

It’s unclear at this point exactly what the FBI is investigating. WXYZ-TV said the subpoenas focus on three people: Mullin; Ficano’s suspended Deputy County Executive, Azzam Elder; and information technology chief Tahir Kazmi.

WXYZ said the subpoenas also focus on the non-profit Wayne County Business Development Corporation. Mullin used to head that group, which paid her a $75,000 bonus when she was the economic development chief.  Some members of that group are businesses with county contracts.

A spokeswoman for FBI’s Detroit office would not confirm or deny the substance of WXYZ’s report.