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Macomb County to DWSD: ‘We want our money back’

By: Cortney Casey | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published January 26, 2011

 Workers pass by the giant sinkhole that emerged after a sanitary sewer interceptor and water main failed on Aug. 22, 2004. In light of recent federal indictments, Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Anthony V. Marrocco is now questioning whether the Macomb Wastewater Disposal District is owed around $3 million for work billed that may or may not have been performed.

Workers pass by the giant sinkhole that emerged after a sanitary sewer interceptor and water main failed on Aug. 22, 2004. In light of recent federal indictments, Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Anthony V. Marrocco is now questioning whether the Macomb Wastewater Disposal District is owed around $3 million for work billed that may or may not have been performed.

File photo by David Schreiber

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STERLING HEIGHTS — Is there a money-back guarantee on that?

Late last month, Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Anthony V. Marrocco fired off correspondence to Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, seeking confirmation on whether contractor Bobby Ferguson received nearly $3 million for work he allegedly never performed on a collapsed Detroit Water and Sewerage Department interceptor near 15 Mile and Moravian in 2004.

Federal indictments handed down by a grand jury in December alleged that another contractor agreed to pay Ferguson $350,000 under threat of delayed contract amendments. Former Mayor Detroit Kwame Kilpatrick and then-DWSD Director Victor Mercado signed the $12 million extension to the original contractor’s contract shortly thereafter, according to the indictment.

But Marrocco, citing DWSD records, pointed out additional monthly payments made to Ferguson’s Inland Waters Pollution Control Inc. between September 2004 and May 2005 totaling nearly $2.5 million.

“The U.S. attorney claims Ferguson did no work on the 15 Mile interceptor repair contract,” said Marrocco. “If that assertion is correct, then all payments made to Ferguson for 15 Mile were fraudulent and should be returned to the sewer district.”

According to Marrocco, repair of the interceptor — which belonged to the DWSD at the time but has since come into the possession of Macomb and Oakland counties — cost nearly $55 million, the majority of which was covered by the 11-community Macomb County Wastewater Disposal District.

The district encompasses Sterling Heights, Utica, New Haven and Fraser, and Clinton, Shelby, Macomb, Lenox, Chesterfield, Washington and Harrison townships.

“I ask Detroit to verify whether Ferguson actually performed $2,479,365 worth of work at 15 Mile, contrary to what the U.S. attorney says in the indictment,” Marrocco wrote in the letter to Bing. “If these were also fraudulent payments, then I demand reimbursement of $2,479,365 plus $350,000 for a total repayment of $2,829,365 to the Macomb County Wastewater Disposal District.”

Ferguson, a friend of Kilpatrick’s, was one of several people indicted on a slew of charges, ranging from obstruction of justice to bribery and mail/wire fraud. Also named were Kilpatrick himself; his father, Bernard; Derrick Miller, a former mayoral aide; and Mercado.

Officials in Sterling Heights, where the collapse and resulting sinkhole occurred, have emphasized that they had no role in the hiring, monitoring or payment of contractors on the repairs and detected no discernible delays in the project’s completion.

Sterling Heights City Manager Mark Vanderpool said the city has been in contact with the Macomb County Public Works Department, expressing concerns over the overpayment allegations and oversight of the sewer system.

“After numerous conversations, we are confident that Mr. Marrocco’s office is representing the concerns of the 11-member Macomb County Wastewater Disposal District regarding this matter,” he said. “In addition to Mr. Marrocco’s effort, ultimately, the judicial process has to play out.”

Marrocco said he anticipates the verification process on Ferguson’s work or lack thereof to be lengthy, but he’s hopeful Macomb will get its due in the end.

“We want our money back. That’s all there is to it,” he said. “I’m pretty positive we can get that $2 million plus back if we can show Ferguson did nothing there. It might take time. It’s not going to happen overnight.”

In the meantime, Marrocco said he also wants to sit down with state representatives and senators to lobby for changes to the Detroit Water and Sewer Board.

Currently, the Detroit mayor appoints individuals to the seven-member panel, which includes four Detroit residents and three members representing the suburban wholesale customers.

“I think the Detroit Water and Sewer Board should be placed under a separate authority and not under the rule of Detroit,” said Marrocco, claiming the shift would add “accountability” and “transparency.” “I think it should be split into two separate departments. I’d like to see one in charge of water only and another board set up to take care of sewer disposal. The way it is now, it’s just too big and too complicated with one board handling water issues and sewer issues.”

Robert Walter, attorney for the DWSD, did not return calls for comment by press time, nor did Ferguson’s attorney, Gerald Evelyn. The voicemail for Dan Lijana, a spokesperson for Bing, was full, and an e-mail request for a comment went unreturned.

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