Sentencing for John David is set for Aug. 14 in U.S. District Court in Detroit.

Sentencing for John David is set for Aug. 14 in U.S. District Court in Detroit.

File photo by Patricia O'Blenes

Contractor pleads guilty in Madison schools bribery case

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison-Park News | Published April 14, 2023


MADISON HEIGHTS — A past contractor for the Madison District Public Schools has pleaded guilty to conspiring with the school board’s ex-president in a pay-to-play scheme.

John David, 65, entered his guilty plea April 13 before U.S. District Judge Laurie Michelson. David pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit federal program bribery from 2014 through 2018, and bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds.

Investigators say the recipient of the bribe was Albert Morrison, who served as president of the MDPS Board of Education from 2012 through 2018.

David owned Emergency Restoration, a company that Morrison allegedly awarded more than $3.1 million in maintenance and construction work at school properties.

According to court records, this was done in exchange for more than $550,000 in bribe money, written in checks from David’s company to Morrison’s company, Comfort Consulting.

In total, investigators uncovered $561,667 in payments from David to Morrison, from 2014 through 2018. David allegedly told them that he had to “pay to play” in the district.

Investigators also say that Morrison spent the money from David on luxury items including Florida vacations and a boat slip.

Morrison previously denied the payments when confronted about them at a Madison school board meeting, and denied having any financial ties to David or Emergency Restoration. The two men also did not disclose the payments to state auditors.

Both men were originally charged last year. Morrison was indicted on federal charges of tax evasion and failure to file tax returns in April 2022, and received an additional charge of conspiracy to commit bribery in July 2022, at which time David was charged as his co-conspirator.    

“Our community deserves school systems free of corruption,” said U.S. Attorney Dawn Ison in a statement April 13. “This prosecution demonstrates our commitment to ensure that public officials in our educational systems put the interests of our children first.”

Ison was joined in her announcement by representatives from the FBI’s Michigan Division, the IRS’s Criminal Investigation Division, and the Department of Education Office of Inspector General.

“Mr. David guaranteed he would receive work funded by Madison District Public Schools not by participating in a fair and transparent process, but by bribing those in positions of power,” said James Tarasca, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Detroit Field Office, in a statement.

“Public corruption is one of the FBI’s top investigative priorities because of the negative impact corruption has on the public’s faith in government agencies,” he said. “The FBI, IRS and Department of Education Office of Inspector General will continue to work cooperatively to hold those who engage in corrupt practices in our education systems accountable for their crimes.”

Morrison’s attorney, Rhonda Brazile, did not return calls by press time.

Robert Morgan, the attorney for David, did not wish to be quoted directly, but he said on the phone that he believes the amount of the alleged bribe is subject to debate, and he feels some of the alleged payments will be later found irrelevant to the case.

Sentencing for David is set for Aug. 14 in U.S. District Court in Detroit.

As for Morrison, at press time, he was scheduled to next appear in court April 25 for a plea hearing.

The Madison District Public Schools issued a statement saying it is considering its next course of action.

“As Madison District Public Schools is a victim in this case, the district is entitled to make a statement at sentencing, scheduled for August, as well as request court order restitution,” reads the district’s statement. “In partnership with our attorneys and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, we are currently evaluating these options.”


District’s business dealings questioned in 2018
In February 2018, the Madison-Park News investigated allegations by Mark Kimble, who at the time was a school board trustee, and who has since returned to the board.

Kimble was concerned about the 2016 sale of the land once occupied by Monroe Elementary School, located at Dallas and Barrett avenues. By the start of 2018, the construction of more than 30 new homes was imminent, distressing neighbors who had enjoyed the peace and quiet of a park.  

The school board, under Morrison’s leadership, had sold more than 3.5 acres at the site for $60,000 to Emergency Restoration, which reportedly planned to build the new homes there. As a point of comparison, in 2009, the city paid $121,000 for 1 acre, using federal grant money through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. 

The sale was also completed without a competitive bid, and without Morrison disclosing his friendship with David. Morrison only disclosed that relationship months after the sale was completed. 

During the November 2018 election, Morrison decided not to run for reelection. Kimble was elected the new president, and the new board majority immediately severed all business ties with Emergency Restoration. 

Shortly before the November 2018 election, the state released a report validating the majority of Kimble’s claims. The Michigan Department of Education, along with the Michigan Office of Internal Audit Services, found that during Morrison’s time as president, the district sidestepped bidding requirements by splitting up invoices and classifying all repairs as “emergencies.” Emergency Restoration was also being paid fees and operating without board authorization to do “construction management work” for the district. 

The state noted that all vendors in the district had been operating without contracts, and that not a single purchase order had been used by the district or its contractors, which is required by the board’s bylaws.

The state’s report in 2018 failed to substantiate claims that a “questionable relationship” existed between Morrison and Emergency Restoration — one that resulted in competitive bids not occurring, preferential treatment and/or Morrison benefiting financially.

Kimble said he now feels some vindication.

“I personally believe that stealing from kids is as low as it gets,” Kimble said April 13. “I also think that while the wheels of justice turn slowly, they do turn. And I think there are many more dominos yet to fall.”

Cindy Holder, the current board president, said she’s encouraged by the case moving forward.

“There are many good people who put in work to make this investigation happen, and it’s great to see things starting to come to fruition,” Holder said. “It frustrates me that in the past, (the suspects) claimed they were for the kids, when they were actually stealing from them. And now we’re trying to replace what they took, and rebuild trust in our district. We need to reestablish that trust so that our schools can start to flourish again.”