US prosecutors last week charged the former mayor of Romulus, Michigan, LeRoy Burcroff, with public corruption including wire fraud for spending at least $15,000 of capital funds on his personal expenses.
The scheme involved Burcroff stealing money from some of his campaign donors, who thought the money would be reused to reelect the mayor, prosecutors reported.
Burcroff, 58, is just the latest public official being prosecuted for corruption by federal attorneys. The US government has focused on ending public corruption in the Detroit region for the last 10 years. The crackdown has resulted in federal charges against at least 110 people, and two past UAW presidents have been convicted.
Also behind bars are ex-Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and at least 20 public officials and contractors in Macomb County.
Scam Involved Wiring $2,400 To Yacht Club
The scheme involved sending $2400 to a yacht club in Belleville at the end of 2017 from his campaign account, federal agents say.
His attorney Walter Pisaczatwoski responded that people who worked with Burcroff in the city know that he always gave everything he had to the voters. He claims his client even gave money back to the city treasury during lean times.
Burcroff was charged almost a year after the US government issued a grand jury subpoena to the clerk’s office in Wayne County. The grand jury action came after questions about his spending of campaign cash 10 years ago for his daughter’s wedding which doubled as a campaign event..
Burcroff has been charged in a criminal misinformation, meaning he will most likely plead guilty. He could receive up to 20 years in prison.
He is the second Democrat from the area of Downriver charged in a federal court in the last five years. All have been accused of spending campaign contributions on personal expenses.
For example, ex-Taylor Mayor Rick Sollars will soon be tried in a public corruption case involving accusations that he stole at least $30,000 of campaign contributions.
He allegedly cashed checks at a local party store that stole money from a foreclosed house program.
Burcroff’s Spending Was Watched For Several Months
Last year, the Secretary of State’s Office in the state reported it has been looking into allegations around Burcroff’s spending for months.
His previous attorney, Daniel Wholihan, told a local paper that the mayor had given back about $4500 in campaign cash to cover the wedding expenses.
The attorney argued that the wedding was also a campaign event because many who were there worked on the campaign.
But campaign finance experts don’t agree with the move. If your daughter’s wedding is also a campaign event, then isn’t almost any event possibly a campaign event, too, they say. Also, as soon as a politician holds a campaign function at a personal celebration, there will be immediate ethics and corruption questions. It’s hard to understand why Burcroff didn’t consider this before holding the event.
Burcroff’s ex-attorney did concede that the optics of holding such a double event are problematic at best. In total, he returned $20,000 of the campaign donations.
However, the membership for the yacht club and a Jeep he covered with campaign funds will not be paid back. His attorney said those items were simply used for his mayoral and campaign duties.
Burcroff first gained power in 2013 but he didn’t run for reelection last year after many questions about a possible FBI investigation. His successor was Robert McCraight. The current mayor said recently that the situation is ‘unfortunate,’ and he’s sad for the former mayor and his family.
Detroit Seems To Be The Home Of Public Theft
The Burcroff story is the most recent example of local public corruption, but Detroit has a reputation for political misdeeds. In 2021, the FBI raided the homes of councilmembers Janee Ayers and Scott Benson. Also, a chief of staff’s office was raided by the federal agents in city hall.
The federal searches came about a month after US prosecutors charged councilman Andre Spivey with conspiracy to commit bribery. His attorney said last year that his client was cooperating with federal agents.
A team of 20 FBI agents was seen leaving city hall with boxes of documents. Agents also search Benson’s and Ayer’s homes at the same time. Federal agents also checked the home of Benson’s chief of staff, Carol Banks.
Even with the big show of FBI force, not a lot is known about what the council members might have done to make them federal targets.
A special agent with the FBI confirmed that surprise search warrants were delivered at city hall and other buildings across the city as part of their corruption investigation. However, the agents didn’t go to the 11th floor, which is where Mayor Mike Duggan has his office. His press secretary stated that the mayor didn’t know anything about the FBI’s actions in city hall.
There were questions that the fall 2021 FBI action occurred so close to the November election. Some public officials commented that making public a corruption investigation during the election cycle could affect votes.
According to a former US attorney, the Department of Justice usually keeps a policy of not taking actions that could affect a political election. DOJ doesn’t even want an appearance of any interference.
That’s why DOJ reportedly has a policy of avoiding enforcement actions against political candidates two months before the election, unless absolutely necessary.