Federal grand jury issues subpoenas in Detroit demo program

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A grand jury is now looking into allegations of corruption involving Detroit's demolition program.

And now subpoenas have been issued to multiple contractors and city agencies. Federal investigators want to make sure when it comes to contractors hired to do the demolition of land bank owned homes in Detroit that the numbers add up.

The city of Detroit says they have been open and transparent with federal investigators for over a year -but apparently that can't be said for some of the contractors involved.

The Detroit Land Bank with the help of the Detroit Building Authority has overseen the demolition of thousands of vacant houses in the city using federal money in the hardest hit areas of the city.

The program has been under a FOX 2 microscope for a while, prompting an exchange a couple years ago between Charlie LeDuff and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan's chief of staff.

Charlie LeDuff: “The feds are looking into it now,"

"If they are indeed looking at what we are doing, we absolutely invite it," said chief of staff Alexis Wiley at the time. "Because everything we do is above board, we are kept to the highest standard and we are doing the best possible work."

Sources tell FOX 2 a federal grand jury has subpoenaed the records and communications of certain contractors who have previously won bids to do the demo of houses in the city for the land bank.

In light of this news the city echoed what they've previously said.

"We have fully cooperated with this investigation from the very beginning and will continue to do so," said Wiley, Duggan's chief of staff in a statement. "The mayor's position always has been that if anyone has done something wrong, they should be punished."

The mayor's office is willing to go a step further saying they have not been subpoenaed because they have handed over every piece of information requested by federal investigators.

FOX 2 has been looking into this matter for months and was told again today that Duggan and the mayor's office is not a target of the investigation. In fact there might not be any target at all.

Subpoenaing information for the grand jury is just a legal means of getting information that a contractor may not willingly give up.
"The grand jury can request and subpoena certain records and documents and that would be coupled with live testimony," said defense attorney Jeffrey Collins. "And based on that they will make a determination on whether or not there is sufficient evidence to charge."

Unlike a criminal jury, they don't all need to agree to bind someone over on criminal charges, just need to find probable cause. 

"Probable cause is a relatively low standard," said Collins. "The joke back in law school the common phrase was you could indict a ham sandwich."

According to a spokesperson from Duggan's office the mayor himself does not sign off on every move the land bank and Detroit Building Authority does, rather the mayor appoints members and once they're in place, they are responsible for those actions.

Here is how a federal grand jury works - the prosecution gets to lay out its case with evidence and witnesses while the defense has no say. Then if a majority of jurors find probable cause, criminal charges are issued.  This process, unlike a preliminary hearing is not open to the public.

According to the mayor's office, the subpoenas go back to the start of the Duggan administration because when Mayor Dave Bing was in office, he had the funds but wasn't using them. Duggan used the first round of federal funds right before they were set to expire.