Elrick's big investigations of 2014 ... and what's happening now

Detroit spent much of 2014 in bankruptcy and while there's never enough money to go around, there are more than enough crazy stories. 

So here's a look back at some of M.L. Elrick's biggest investigations of the past year -- and an update on where things stand.

We start with a big problem -- and a big promise. After Elrick reported that Detroit was sitting on money it collected to knock down abandoned houses, Mayor Mike Duggan acknowledged the problem in his first state of the city address

"The insurance company would pay us $5,000 and the demolition would cost us $7 million, so what did we do," Duggan said. "We left the house there and we left the money in the bank account - until it grew to $16 million."

The mayor said the city would immediately start spending that money to clean up neighborhoods ... but he didn't say how long it would take.

Elrick: "How confident are you that Mayor Duggan will knock down all of these houses on the fire escrow list by the end of the year?"

"I'm 100 percent confident," said Alexis Wiley, chief of staff to Duggan. "If it is on our list, it's coming down."

It was an ambitious pledge  and it came up short. Brian Farkas of the Detroit Building Authority said the city still has about 500 homes to knock down. 

Farkas says the city shifted priorities to other abandoned buildings after learning it had to use or lose $50 million in federal demolition funds. He added that the remaining 500 fire escrow homes should all be gone by the summer.

Brenda Lewis has no complaints, however. She learned from watching my stories that the city was still holding insurance money it claimed after an electrical fire started in her dining room back in 1996.

"They said they took $3,250 and said they were holding it until we tear the house down or fix it up," Lewis said.

Elrick: "Why not tear it down?"

"Because I loved it and thought it could be saved," Lewis said. 

After Lewis got the run-around, I contacted city officials and a few months ago, she got her money back.

"If I hadn't have heard you on television, i would have never knew," Lewis said. 

When I wasn't trying to get public officials to do the right thing with your money, i was trying to get public officials to, well, do the right thing.

State Rep. John Olumba wasn't always so recognizable -- mainly, because he didn't go to work very often. 

 Elrick revealed in 2013 that Olumba missed more work than any other state lawmaker.

"I really like to spend time with my constituency," John Olumba said.

Elrick: "So who did you meet with today?"

Olumba: "I met with my father."

In 2014, Elrick revealed that Olumba had moved out of his Detroit house district. He said he was just getting a head-start on his upcoming run for the state senate.

"I'm not ditching the area," Olumba said. "I'm kind of expanding my territory."

Olumba lost that race, but he didn't go quietly.

"I have a sense that there's something in the air," Olumba said. "Maybe a little bit of fear about some of the things that i might say."

His farewell speech was one of the most memorable in recent history.

"If Jerome isn't good at math or reading, then he must be retarded," Olumba said during the speech. "Oh my bad, we passed a law banning that word. Was I here to vote on that?"

Unfortunately, it was memorable for all the wrong reasons.

"Asians and Chaldeans, I swear, they should have a black misery appreciation day," Olumba said. "They're selling fake hair and gas and loosies and cigarettes to people all across Detroit just hoping to catch a breath of fresh air. They're making a fortune doing it." 

But Elrick didn't just scrutinize local lawmakers - he traveled the country to expose a national fundraising operation that targets seniors and veterans.

A few months after his story aired, the mastermind of the direct mail campaign was charged with child pornography

Mike Centanni of Base Connect, leading the firm at the heart of the fund-raising operation, raised millions from donors in Michigan and across the country.

Base Connect officials said they were shocked by the allegations and fired Centanni. The charges against him carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. A plea hearing is scheduled for Jan. 5.

No look back at 2014 would be complete without a mention of Detroit's most notorious city councilman George Cushingberry. 

There isn't enough time to recap all the stories Elrick did on him, will there be more Cush stories in 2015?

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