Another city employee admits to taking bribes

By J. PATRICK PEPPER
Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — Former Building and Safety Department clerk Wanda J. Smith last week became the second department employee convicted of corruption charges in five months.

U.S. Attorney Terrence Berg said Smith, 42, admitted Nov. 17 to accepting more than $15,000 and discounted repairs to her house and automobiles in return for issuing more than 1,000 permits for little or no fee. She said the bribery lasted from summer 2006 until March 2009, when federal agents seized documents and files from her City Hall workspace and took her in for questioning.

Under the terms of the agreement, Smith faces a maximum penalty of 27 months in prison and a $50,000 fine. She also must pay the $29,000 in restitution to the city for permit fees that she should have collected, but didn’t. Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 21.

“Public servants owe a high duty of honesty and integrity to the citizens that should never allow the acceptance of money or services to avoid carrying out their official duties,” Berg said. “We will continue to make such cases a priority.”

The plea is the second conviction to result from an 18-month FBI corruption probe into the department. In July, another former clerk, Leticia Bosemon, admitted to creating and selling phony performance bonds to property buyers to help them skirt city escrow requirements on property purchases. Sentencing for Bosemon is scheduled for Dec. 3.

The time frame of events admitted to by Smith indicate that, for nearly a year, she accepted bribes while knowing federal investigators were seizing documents, files and computers through a series of departmental searches.

Smith’s plea also underscores the lack of basic accounting controls within the department, which was closed and reorganized among other city departments in June. To put the scope of the crime in context, Smith said she issued at least 1,000 permits illegally over a three-year period; a figure nearly as much as the 1,200 legitimate permits the department issued for the entire 2009 fiscal year.

Mayor John O’Reilly Jr. acknowledged the oversight problems, saying, “There never should have been one person controlling all that money.” But it’s an issue he believes has been addressed by the department’s reorganization, part of which included instituting more stringent accountability standards.

O’Reilly also reiterated that the department overall is full of hardworking, honest employees, something he has said since the outset of the investigation.

“We have no reason to believe there is anyone else involved with this. We told (investigators) to look into everyone and we’re satisfied they’re doing that,” O’Reilly said.

But as the investigation wears on, one thing the mayor said he hoped for – charges against those who bribed Smith and Bosemon – could fall by the wayside. A U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman on Wednesday said it’s “not likely” prosecutors will seek charges against the other parties.

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