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Guilt and innocence

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After a day and a half of deliberations, a U.S. District Court jury last week found two City of Detroit employees, Leroy Barnes and Garry Spann, not guilty of helping a vendor bilk millions from the city. The jury found another worker, Alberta Butler, guilty of like charges. Butler, an accounts payable clerk, was found guilty of taking bribes from Michael Nickson, who owned the defunct Four Stars Industries Inc. That company sold $2.3 million in pumps and parts to the city, but federal prosecutors say that the city never received the equipment, which was to be used for the lighting department’s Mistersky Power Plant (see “Light-fingered,” Metro Times, June 18-24).

On the eve of the two-week trial, Nickson pleaded guilty to 82 counts involving mail fraud, conspiring to commit mail fraud and tax evasion. Also charged with money laundering, Nickson fought that allegation in court and lost. The charge carries a prison sentence ranging from three to 20 years.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Engstrom, who prosecuted the case, said that Butler received pearl earrings, a computer and other gifts to “authorize payment on fraudulent invoices” submitted by Nickson.

Butler also was found guilty of several counts of mail fraud and conspiring to commit mail fraud; the felonies carry maximum prison sentences from five to 20 years and possible fines.

Spann and Barnes, who work at the Mistersky plant as a general maintenance foreman and assistant mechanical engineer, respectively, were also accused of signing documents that allowed Nickson to be paid. They were found not guilty of several counts of mail fraud and conspiring to commit mail fraud.

All three employees continued working for the city during the trial. Nickson and Butler’s sentencing hearings have not been scheduled.

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