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"Detroit Metro CEO Mullin backer gained $420K in deal she helped engineer"


 
Thursday, October 13, 2011

Mullin backer gained $420K in deal
By Joel Kurth
The Detroit (MI) News
 

Detroit - A board member of the Detroit Metropolitan Airport authority who
voted to appoint Turkia Mullin as its CEO made $420,000 just weeks earlier
from a land sale she helped engineer, records obtained by The Detroit News
show.
 
Charlie J. Williams, a former Wayne County deputy executive, worked as
facilitator and mediator in a $14 million sale of a parking lot for a new
county jail downtown. The deal - which Mullin signed off on as the county's
chief development officer - paid him a 3 percent commission. 

Two weeks after the sale was completed on July 14, Williams voted to hire
Mullin for the airport job that pays $250,000 a year. He also was one of
three members of a search committee that recommended her for the job above
four finalists with airport management experience.
 
"If you were in on the interview process, you would've hired her too if you
saw how dynamic she was," said Williams, a former appointee of county
Executive Robert Ficano, who named him to the airport board in 2006. 

Williams said "there is no conflict" because the seller of the land,
Greektown Casino, paid his fee and he didn't take "one cent from the
county." Others aren't so sure, including County Commission Chairman Gary
Woronchak. 

Woronchak said he learned of the payment this week and vowed to include it
as part of the panel's investigation of Mullin's $200,000 severance from the
county. She has promised to return the money, but county officials have yet
to make public proof that she has done so. 

Since the controversy broke last week, questions have emerged about Mullin's
exit from the county and hiring at the airport. 

"The Turkia Mullin saga has resulted in the county getting a black eye and
it seems like there's another punch every day," said Woronchak, D-Dearborn.
"We need to find out if the appearance of impropriety is in fact
impropriety." 

Mullin deferred comment to airport authority spokesman Tim Johnson. He
released a statement saying the transaction was "between Greektown Casino
and Wayne County and does not involve the airport authority in any way." 

'Can't control the timing'
 
Williams' payment wasn't exactly a secret. Commissioner Laura Cox,
R-Livonia, questioned it and his role in the sale during a June commission
committee meeting. 

Mullin quickly vouched for Williams, according to transcripts of the meeting
reviewed by The News. 

At the time, Mullin was rumored to be a candidate for the airport post but
her interest wasn't publicly known, Cox said. Now that Mullin has been named
CEO, the fees to Williams are even more concerning, Cox added. 

"It's troublesome. She helped give him a deal, and he recommended her for a
job. He got a large paycheck from that jail deal," Cox said. 

Explanations differ on his involvement in the deal that involved the
county's Building Authority buying 7.18 acres at St. Antoine and Gratiot
from the casino for the $300-million jail, and the casino buying the
Sheriff's administration building downtown for $2.5 million for a valet
parking facility. 

In June, Mullin told commissioners "Charlie Williams has been working with
us for several years" and approached reluctant Greektown Casino board
members to finalize the deal, according to transcripts of the meeting. 

"When Charlie first approached these folks, they weren't interested in doing
any kind of deal," Mullin told commissioners. She added that Williams saved
the county some $800,000 in costs by persuading the casino to pay for the
demolition of the Sheriff's building. 

On Tuesday, Williams told The News he never spoke to Mullin about the sale.
He said he was recruited by Freman Hendrix, a Greektown board member and
former Detroit deputy mayor, because both sides were at loggerheads for
several weeks last fall. 

"My involvement was initiated by the casino," said Williams, who has owned
his real estate firm since 2007 and had served as an appointee for former
Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young and former Wayne County Executive Edward
McNamara. 

"I made my money from the casino. It's not a conflict of interest." 

He said he still works for the casino on the project and pointed out that
critics on the commission voted for the sale. As for concerns that he made
$420,000 in one month and voted for Mullin the next, Williams said: "You
can't control the timing of the closing" of a real estate sale. 

Hendrix confirmed the account Tuesday but described Williams as an
"independent contractor." 

Sometime last year, Williams accompanied Mullin and Deputy County Executive
Azzam Elder to a meeting with Hendrix and other casino executives about the
land swap, Hendrix said. Both sides, Hendrix said, were "98 percent there,"
but talks became bogged down for weeks, so he called Williams to seal the
deal. 

"I called (Williams) to get this done because he is uniquely positioned in
this city," Hendrix said. "He knows a lot of people and he's trusted. I
trust him and I know he's close to Bob Ficano and others. If you're a guy
who for 30-40 years keeps your nose clean and isn't pissing people off,
you're doing something right." 

Hendrix said that although Mullin's name is on many documents related to the
sale, casino officials viewed Elder, not her, as its driving force. 

Williams said he made no effort to conceal his involvement. It's listed in
paragraph 15 of a seven-page purchase agreement forwarded to the county
commission. 

"My stuff was transparent," Williams said. "I didn't try to hide the
brokerage firm name. It's right there - Charlie J. Williams Realty - for the
public to see." 

But Woronchak on Wednesday said there are enough questions about the deal to
warrant investigation. 

"Obviously, the more we learn, there are things that occurred related to
county business and even on the fringes of county business that the
commission was not fully aware of," Woronchak said. "This is not something
we can allow." 

Questions unanswered
 
The payment to Williams follows numerous questions about Mullin's
appointment to the airport and exit from the county. 

"We think there's a lot going on with this that shouldn't be going on," said
Thomas Richards, president of the American Federation of State, County and
Municipal Employees Local 101 that represents 187 road maintenance workers,
clerks and others at the airport. 

"She was the last person I thought would get the job." 

Among the issues: 

The seven members who unanimously voted to offer her the post have deep ties
to Ficano. 

The county's former human resources director, Tim Taylor, co-signed her
severance agreement and was offered a $10,000 consulting job with the
airport about the time she was hired. The deal has since been rescinded. 

The national search for an airport CEO lasted about two weeks. It was led by
Southfield firm, Trustinus LLC, which was paid $50,000 by the airport. 

The company is owned by Jack Krasula, the former director of Pinnacle Race
Course in Huron Township. Mullin's county department sold Pinnacle 320 acres
for $1 and invested $26 million in taxpayer money in infrastructure
improvements for the track that closed in 2010, two years after it opened. 

Williams served on the board of the track's owner, Magna Entertainment
Corp., from 2007 to 2009, records show. 

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