Regime of once powerful Wayne County boss facing federal scrutiny
Can Robert Ficano, the man who once wielded enormous influence and power and whose political machine was unmatched compared to other political heavyweights in Wayne County, now survive the rigorous federal scrutiny that has so quickly engulfed his administration?
That is the question on the mind of every political entity in the city and beyond. For the last four weeks I’ve been listening to people from various political backgrounds playing the soothsayer’s role, making predictions about the future of the county executive and his administration.
Some believe that the end of his administration is a foregone conclusion, while others are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt as long as he doesn’t get indicted and stained in the process.
While it is important to state clearly that Ficano has repeatedly declared his innocence and has not been charged with any crime, it is difficult to fathom how his administration can function effectively under the climate of a widening federal investigation that has already nabbed one of his top lieutenants, Tahir Kazmi.
“We are turning over every stone in this case, and anyone who tampers with our investigation will be charged with obstruction of justice. We hope that these charges will encourage others to come forward and assist us in our investigation rather than impede it. The citizens of Wayne County are entitled to a thorough investigation to ensure that they are receiving the honest government they deserve,” was how the determined U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District Barbara McQuade described the charges.
The federal investigation is not over. Ficano’s former deputy, Azzam Elder, the man widely perceived by many to have had power that exceeded his title, and Turkia Awada Mullin, the county’s former economic chief, whose doubtful appointment to CEO of the Detroit Metro Airport blew the covers off the $200,000 severance package, are all reported to be under the federal microscope.
Michael Grundy, another top Ficano lieutenant and political operative, who ran the county’s insurance program for the poor, is also under federal scrutiny, facing disturbing allegations of shakedown from a county client, as well as reports of wiring thousands of dollars of public dollars to a fledging IT company owned by a childhood friend.
With all of these investigations focusing on the Ficano administration — and the men and women who served under him occupying significant positions that warranted public trust and responsibility — it is hard to imagine how Ficano’s administration can ride out the political storm.
How can his administration earn the public confidence when reports of county misuse of funds meant for the most vulnerable in society by some of his former executives are dominating the headlines?
The individuals under scrutiny were not just regular employees. They were key members of Ficano’s cabinet running departments, and by the stroke of a pen changed lives.
In a different setting, a board would have asked Ficano to resign a long time ago for either being a bad manager or not having a clue as to what his lieutenants were allegedly doing.
Was he that much in the dark about what was happening or was he just going along with the program?
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