Elrick's 2017: Macomb corruption, city council hypocrisy, stories of inspiration

Public corruption in Macomb County, a state senator accused of hiring a ghost employee, city council hypocrisy. 2017 was a very newsy year for Problem Solver M.L. Elrick. 

But it wasn't all hard news, when he wasn't holding public officials accountable, M.L. found time to tell some inspiring stories, too. Here's a look back at the past year and an update - on some of those stories.

Brian Banks

Harper Woods Democrat Brian Banks was convicted of multiple felonies before he became a state representative in 2012. Banks was running for re-election when the Michigan attorney general charged him with ripping off a credit union back in 2010. Instead of risking a ninth felony conviction - and a trip to prison - Banks pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and resigned from office.

Not long after he resigned, Banks announced that he would run for the state senate in 2018.

Tenisha Yancey

After 8-time felon banks quit on them, voters in Michigan's first House district elected a two-time felon to replace him, Tenisha Yancey says her brushes with the law were youthful indiscretions that won't happen again.

"At a time that I was just going through a lot of grief, a lot of turmoil from within, and making very poor decisions," she said. "But I sit here 20 years later as an adult who makes sound decisions and who tries to prevent others from making those decisions based on my experiences."

Burt Johnson busted

"Burt Johnson pays his bills," said Burt Johnson.

The feds say Highland Park Democrat Burt Johnson paid some of those bills with money kicked back to him by a no-show employee on his state senate staff.  One of the lawyers who has represented the senator says Johnson’s employee did do some work for her state salary.

"We have a lot of evidence of that, but ultimately we're going to speak to that in the courtroom," said Cyril Hall.

Johnson is scheduled to go to trial early in 2018.

Bettie Cook Scott

"I ain't dead," said Bettie Cook Scott.

Dead? no. Deadbeat? Well, not any more. The landlord for Detroit Democratic Rep. Bettie Cook Scott tried to evict her over more than $20,000 in unpaid rent. But a judge gave her a chance to catch up on years of back rent and, to her landlord's chagrin, she paid up.

Don Dilloway: "It would have been nice to get her out of there, because I know she's going to be a pain in the neck.

Elrick: "You now have a state lawmaker who is a tenant in good standing. that's got to feel pretty good, right?"

Don Dilloway: "Not really, she's a handful to deal with."

Rep. Scott moved on to new problems with money. The Michigan Secretary of State turned her over to the attorney general after she failed to file reports detailing where she got her campaign dough.

Council hiring

Detroit city council members often demand that businesses hire Detroiters.

Brenda Jones: "Everybody knows that I've been fighting for jobs for the last past, I can't tell you how many years. I've been fighting for jobs, to get Detroiters jobs, to get people in the community jobs."

Nevertheless, I revealed that many of the councilmembers themselves hire quite a few suburbanites.

Elrick "You have made hiring Detroiters a big issue with Little Caesars arena, with the ballot initiative, where you have said, 'If you want to business in Detroit you need to hire Detroiters.' doesn't that seem a little bit like you're saying one thing, and doing another?"

Jones: "Yes, it's important that you hire Detroiters. and I will continue to push to hire Detroiters, but not all the time are you able to get the best qualified in Detroit."

Castaneda-Lopez homes

Detroit City Councilwoman Raquel Castaneda-Lopez says she hates blight. Until it comes to the two shabby homes she owns in southwest Detroit.

Raquel Castaneda-Lopez: "We do as much as we can and we're going to keep on doing what we can."
 
Elrick: "But it looks like not very much has been done there in the last six years."
 
Raquel Castaneda-Lopez: "So again, we keep doing what we can to make as many repairs as we can."
 
Elrick: "It looks like that's nothing."
 
Raquel Castaneda-Lopez: "On a limited income, just like many other Detroiters."
 
Elrick: "But you make $75,000 a year, you get a free car, no insurance, no gas, you're experience in fact is not very much like other detroiters, or even like the people in your neighborhood. you are one of the more better off people."

Raquel Castaneda-Lopez: "So again, i am a first-generation college student, have much student debt, I am the sole provider for my family, and that's what we stay focused on."

The city has ordered the councilwoman to fix both homes as you can see, she has a long way to go. 

Gabe Leland 

I normally doesn't care who politicians date unless your money is at stake. He exposed how Detroit City Councilman Gabe Leland voted to approve contracts worth more than $2 million to companies his then-girlfriend helped run.

Her name is Jennifer Fiore, and she is the daughter of long-time Detroit contractor Gasper Fiore. She acknowledged dating the councilman, but he wouldn't admit it -- despite photographic evidence.

A constitutional scholar said Leland's votes probably didn't violate the city's charter, but he says they violated ethical standards and could undermine public trust in the council.

Dearborn mayor

Dearborn Mayor Jack O'Reilly got a deal on a used car - a deal told me he regrets. O'Reilly bought the car from a family friend who had a failing development deal with the city.

O'Reilly got a discount on the car - which he said he didn't know about folks like me started asking questions.

Elrick: "On the face of it, I would say if everything checks out, this might not be corruption, but it does seem to show some poor judgment."
 
O'Reilly: "I guess so." 

Detroit mayor's race

The Detroit mayor's race didn't receive a lot of media coverage, but after doing some investigating, I sat down with each of the candidates.

Elrick: "You've billed yourself to the people of Detroit as a turnaround artist, but sometimes it feels like you're a guy who doesn't follow the rules all the time."
 
Mike Duggan: "Yeah. I guess  don't agree with that.

Elrick: "This is a pretty tough town, and there may be some people who say, is a man who lives with his mother tough enough to run the city of Detroit?"

Coleman Young II: "Let me say it like this. as a man, I'm supposed to provide for my family. with my job. And that's what I do every day. I pay all my bills."  

Mayor Duggan's demolition program remains under investigation. After Duggan clobbered Young 72 to 28 percent, the state senator set his sights on the congressional seat vacated by John Conyers.

Cops on camera

Being a cop can be a tough job, especially in Detroit. But two men told me two cops were way too tough on them.

Billingslea picks up Michaele Jackson and throws him into a chip rack and onto the ground.

The Wayne County prosecutor just charged Officer Richard Billingslea -- he's the guy tossing folks around -- with obstruction of justice, misconduct in office and multiple assault charges.

Macomb County corruption

After years of whispers about corruption in Macomb County, the feds dug in and found a target-rich environment.

Eighteen people have been charged so far and most have agreed to plead guilty. Expect a lot more stories on this subject in 2018.

Chapter 10 - Jalen; Joe Louis; Cougars

Fortunately, not everyone I caught up with in 2017 was conspiring - some were inspiring.

Like Jalen Smereck, who may be the first former Detroit Public Schools student to sign a contract with a National Hockey League team.

Jalen: "I think the biggest thing to me is just seeing the people who really amount to nothing and the amount of talent that comes out of Detroit that really doesn't really go anywhere because they get caught up in the streets. There's kids that get caught up, just in the wrong spots at the wrong times, and it just really hurts them. So I just try to stay positive and stay out the way as much as i can and try to keep a bright future."

While everyone else was looking back at the '67 riot, I re-introduced Detroit to its Cougars. In the months before the riot, a northern Ireland soccer team played for Detroit in fledgling pro-soccer league. The tourists were so focused on the game they nearly didn't realize they were staying across the street from Motown Records. 

Billy Sinclair: "We got into the latter stages of the tournament and I would say to my roomate, 'Why are all those big cars you know stopping there and people getting out and then they take off and then another car comes and picks somebody else up?' But I never thought for a minute to go over and say to somebody, why is your car stopping here? We found out a day before we left that that was the Motown Studios.

Sports is one of my passions, and there are no athletes I cheer louder for than the kids who skate outdoors at clark park in southwest Detroit.

Miriam Corral: "My dad told me to play hockey and I was like, 'Ok, that seems fine with me.' And I started training."

Monica Ayala: "We work together, we work hard. Nobody works harder than us."

My mission for 2018 is to continue to make sure elected officials serve the public instead of just themselves. I can't tell you exactly what we'll find or when we'll share it, but I do know where I'll be on Feb. 17.

At the Clark Park winter carnival, which wraps up with my fourth annual Clark Park Classic Charity Outdoor Hockey Game, I hope to see you there.

In the meantime, when someone asks you "Who watches the watchmen," I hope you'll tell them it's M.L.. Elrick, FOX 2 news.

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