Former school board president sentenced to prison

Albert Morrison convicted on public corruption charges

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison-Park News | Published November 10, 2023

 Albert Morrison, 62, was sentenced Nov. 9 by U.S. District Judge Laurie Michelson. He will serve 45 months in prison, beginning in late January, followed by two years of supervised release.

Albert Morrison, 62, was sentenced Nov. 9 by U.S. District Judge Laurie Michelson. He will serve 45 months in prison, beginning in late January, followed by two years of supervised release.

File photo by Patricia O'Blenes

MADISON HEIGHTS — A former president of the Madison District Public Schools Board of Education will serve prison time for tax evasion and a years-long bribery scheme.

Albert Morrison, 62, was sentenced Nov. 9 by U.S. District Judge Laurie Michelson. He will serve 45 months in prison, beginning in late January, followed by two years of supervised release. Morrison was also ordered to pay $118,200 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service.

Morrison pleaded guilty April 25 to receiving bribe money and tax evasion. He served as president of the Madison District Public Schools Board of Education from 2012 through 2018.

Investigators say Morrison’s co-conspirator and long-time friend, John David, 65, paid him more than $560,000 in bribe money, cutting checks through David’s company, Emergency Restoration, which Morrison cashed through his own company, Comfort Consulting. In exchange, Morrison awarded Emergency Restoration more than $3.1 million in maintenance and construction work at school properties without the board’s knowledge or approval. David pleaded guilty to the scheme April 13 and was sentenced Aug. 14 to two years in prison, beginning later this year. David was also ordered to pay $30,000 in restitution.

In total, investigators uncovered $561,667 in payments from David to Morrison, from 2014 to 2018. Neither David nor Morrison disclosed the payments to state auditors. Morrison also kept the payments secret from the IRS, failing to report them as income during those five years.

Morrison also did not file a federal income tax return in any of those years except 2014, investigators said. In this way, he avoided paying roughly $118,200 in taxes.


‘Who steals from kids?’
Rhonda Brazile, with the Federal Community Defender office, represented Morrison. She said that “some” of the alleged bribe money was for “legitimate referrals.” However, she conceded they were unable to produce any invoices or other evidence to support this claim.

The judge overruled the defense’s objection. A $12,000 difference in the amount would have qualified Morrison for a lighter sentencing guideline.

Prosecutors described a lavish lifestyle that he funded at the taxpayers’ expense, including trips to Florida, a boat slip, a new Chevy Camaro and Dodge Ram, restaurants and shopping sprees. Morrison also used the bribe money to fund other personal expenses such as rent, gas and groceries. Prosecutors said that by giving work to his friend in exchange for kickbacks, Morrison shortchanged the district and its students.

The judge allowed remarks by Mark Kimble, a current trustee of the board who also served during Morrison’s tenure, and who was the only trustee to question Morrison.

“I would like to start out by saying, ‘Who steals from kids?’ The defendant did,” Kimble said to the court. “The fact he was an elected official with a fiduciary responsibility bears a heavy burden. … What (Morrison) did is unforgivable.”

The judge noted that the advisory range in Morrison’s case was 108 to 120 months in prison. However, she said the sentencing should be “sufficient but not more than necessary.”

To that end, she would consider other factors, such as the defendant’s health and how he will fare in prison.


The health question
One concern was Morrison’s eyesight. He said he is legally blind in his right eye, and that he suffers from other conditions that cause him difficulty walking without assistance.

The prosecutors challenged Morrison’s claim by playing four video surveillance clips recorded by undercover FBI agents. The clips show Morrison at a football game in early October, where he appeared to walk comfortably up and down bleachers in the rain. He also commented on the game. Later in the video, he could be seen standing outside his car in the parking lot, changing out of his rain poncho.

Brazile countered that the clips don’t show how “winded” Morrison was at the top of the stairs, or that he was asking the person next to him where players were on the field since he couldn’t see. Morrison reportedly attended the game to watch his grandson play.

Another clip showed a school board meeting in July 2017 where Kimble asked Morrison if he was benefiting financially from his ties to Emergency Restoration. Morrison denied any kickbacks from David. Under Morrison’s leadership, the board stopped recording public meetings after Morrison was confronted by Kimble.

At one point, Morrison took the stand to speak on his own behalf.

“I have thought, over and over, about what I would like to say. Not to beat a dead horse, but I can’t write them down, since I can’t see them,” Morrison told the judge. “I am horribly apologetic for what I did. I’m ashamed. I stand before my family and everyone here to apologize. I’m embarrassed — I have no excuse. I allowed my life to spiral out of control.

“It’s not any excuse, but I had lost my brother, and a friend to suicide. And I just went wild,” Morrison said. “What I can say is I listened to Mr. Kimble’s statement, and that hit hard to hear him say I stole from children. I volunteered. … I clothed people, I put a roof over their heads. I’ve spent my life living for other people, because it’s what makes me happy. The smiles on the children’s faces is what makes my life worthwhile.

“I’m embarrassed, and it’s hard for me,” he said. “I’m a man of faith, so I pray that I can redeem myself for what I’ve done. I’m embarrassed. I’m ashamed.”


Reaching a verdict
Michelson said “it’s a hard case” for everyone involved.

“Mr. Morrison, for a substantial time … it did not seem like this conduct made your life difficult,” the judge told the defendant. “You used your influence to steer Mr. David without following the proper rules and regulations. You both profited well. You used it for your enjoyment, and you did not pay taxes on it. … The main thing that changed is that you got caught.

“I do want to be respectful of your health,” she continued. “This is difficult, but it should be and it needs to be. … You were a district official. This was the influence Mr. David paid for, and he paid for a lot of it. What I said to Mr. David is just as applicable here: You did not make a mistake — you knew what you were doing. … For many years, you showed disrespect for the law. It’s conduct that must be punished and absolutely deterred.”

She then softened her tone. She said Morrison is “nonviolent” and unlikely to repeat his crime.

“I don’t only consider the worst thing you’ve done in your life,” Michelson said. “You have accepted responsibility, and your family and friends tell me you’re very remorseful.”

She then announced the sentence: 45 months on each count, to be served concurrently, followed by two years of supervised release, and $118,200 in restitution, due immediately. She also said she would recommend Morrison for a federal medical center, given his health concerns.


The long road to justice
The case was brought forward by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, in partnership with the FBI’s Michigan Division, the IRS’s Criminal Investigation Division and the Department of Education Office of Inspector General. Sentencing was originally set for August, but was delayed twice in September and again in October.

In February 2018, the Madison-Park News first investigated allegations by Kimble. At the time, he was concerned about the 2016 sale of the land once occupied by Monroe Elementary, at Dallas and Barrett avenues in Madison Heights. 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, sold more than 3.5 acres there for $60,000 to Emergency Restoration. As a point of comparison, in 2009, the city paid $121,000 for just 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 stopped short of saying a “questionable relationship” between David and Morrison benefitted either man.

After the sentencing Nov. 9, Kimble said he’s disappointed that the judge did not include restitution to the district.

“Apparently, crime does pay,” Kimble said. “Morrison took so much from this district, and the district got nothing back. It’s a huge disappointment.”