John David, 65, a former contractor for the school district who owned Emergency Restoration in Troy, was sentenced Aug. 14 by U.S. District Judge Laurie Michelson.

John David, 65, a former contractor for the school district who owned Emergency Restoration in Troy, was sentenced Aug. 14 by U.S. District Judge Laurie Michelson.

Photo by Andy Kozlowski

Ex-contractor sentenced in Madison schools bribery case

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison-Park News | Published August 15, 2023


DETROIT — The first prison sentence has been handed down in a corruption case that has ensnarled the Madison District Public Schools for years.

John David, 65, a former contractor for the school district who owned Emergency Restoration in Troy, was sentenced Aug. 14 by U.S. District Judge Laurie Michelson.

He will serve two years in prison, beginning in November, and was ordered to pay $30,000 in restitution.

David pleaded guilty April 13 to two counts: conspiracy to commit federal program bribery from 2014 through 2018, and bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds.

His co-conspirator, Albert Morrison, 62, will be sentenced Aug. 28. Morrison served as president of the Madison District Public Schools Board of Education from 2012 through 2018. He pleaded guilty April 25 to receiving bribe money and tax evasion.

According to court records, David paid Morrison $561,667 in bribe money, written in checks from Emergency Restoration to Morrison’s company, Comfort Consulting. Morrison spent the money on luxury items including Florida vacations and a boat slip. In return, prosecutors say David received more than $3.1 million in maintenance and construction work at school properties.

As part of the pay-to-play scheme, Morrison sidestepped bidding requirements by declaring all repair work as “emergencies,” and by splitting up invoices so that costs fell below certain thresholds. All work then went to Emergency Restoration, which operated as the district’s construction manager without board approval or public disclosure.

Prosecutors requested a sentencing guideline of 87 to 108 months in prison, depicting David as an “insider” who knew the area well and built his business on ill-gotten work — cheating taxpayers, destroying public trust, ruining the district’s reputation and hurting home values.

David’s attorney, Robert Morgan, made arguments to reduce the range. He contested the alleged amount of the bribe, claiming that not all payments were made to acquire work in the district. He said that in some cases, Morrison was referring David for “legitimate jobs” outside of the district. Michelson concluded that either way, David was purchasing influence with a public official.

Morgan also noted his client’s poor health. David, who entered the courtroom using a walker, was diagnosed with a form of muscular dystrophy, and has had multiple hip issues. Morgan said he is concerned about the quality of health care available through the Bureau of Prisons. He worried that David might not survive incarceration.

He also pointed to letters of support David received, saying they paint a picture of a good man — a loving husband and father to two children, with a long history of charitable giving.   

Morgan called attention to David’s psychiatric evaluation as well, saying his client suffers from mental illness and cognitive impairment that made him susceptible to manipulation by others.

At one point, Michelson interjected and asked Morgan, “What is your sense of his crime?”

Morgan replied, “My sense is his past friendship with Morrison was rekindled, and I think that he did not give (his actions) much thought, which relates to his cognitive impairment, and the bad judgment that comes with it, and the impulsiveness, and problematic thinking. It was his mental state, and this is what came to be.”

David then spoke.

“I want to apologize to my wife and children for what I put them through. At the time, I did not look or think about the facts,” David said, his voice strained. “I am also sorry to the company (Emergency Restoration), losing all our customers.

“I have always loved my children, and would never want to hurt any child,” David said. “I try to help the children as much as I can.”

David was silent and stone-faced the rest of the hearing, his gaze fixed on Michelson.

Two representatives from the Madison school district were present to give impact statements. However, Michelson denied them, saying she did not consider them to be direct victims of David.

Before announcing the sentence, Michelson took into account many factors, from David’s otherwise clean record to his ongoing health issues.

“I appreciate how difficult this is for you — physically, emotionally and practically,” she told him. “(But) you are more than your medical issues. They are serious, and I understand that. But they do not erase what you did.

“Despite some setbacks, you’ve led a successful life. … Your condition is degenerating, but it did not disable you,” Michelson said. “This is going to impact the community for a long time, and it is certainly a terrible lesson to teach the kids.

“You did not make a mistake. You knew what you were doing,” she concluded. “You found out how to suppress the unease (you felt), because you were making a lot of money. You showed disrespect for the law. This needs to be punished, and deterred.”

She assured him that the Bureau of Prisons will be able to provide him with proper medical care.

“Take care of yourself,” Michelson told David.

The case was brought forward by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, in partnership with the FBI’s Michigan Division, the Criminal Investigation Division of the IRS and the Department of Education Office of Inspector General.

The verdict has been a long time coming. In February 2018, the Madison-Park News first investigated allegations by Mark Kimble, who at the time was a trustee, and who has since returned to the school 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 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. 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 election in November 2018, the state released a report validating most of Kimble’s claims. The report also noted that all vendors in the district were 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. At that time, however, the state failed to prove a “questionable relationship” between David and Morrison that benefitted either man.

At press time, Morrison’s attorney, Rhonda Brazile, had not returned calls for comment.