While perusing finance reports filed by Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's 2005 re-election committee, we noticed a repeated oddity. At least 10 people who contributed the individual maximum of $3,400 did so in a way that had us scratching our scalps in wonder. Each of the benefactors wrote out four separate checks three for a $1,000 and one for $400 to reach their limit. Why, we mused, wouldn't they just write out one $3,400 check?
The checks were all written on July 30, 2004, the day Kilpatrick held his big Vision Awards fundraiser at Cobo Hall.
Our curiosity was further piqued by the occupations listed for a few of these big givers. For example, take Richard and Sherri McMillion, who live in a ramshackle neighborhood on Detroit's west side. Richard is identified in campaign finance documents as a "laborer," and his wife Sherri a "homemaker." When News Hits paid them a visit, Sherri informed us that she had no recollection of attending the Vision Awards or donating money to Kilpatrick's campaign. Richard wasn't home, and didn't return subsequent calls. Another generous contributor was Brandy McMillion. A niece of Richard and Sherri, she lives in the same neighborhood and, according to campaign docs, works as a cashier at a Wendy's. When we knocked on her door to ask how someone apparently making little more than the minimum wage could afford to give $3,400 to a politician she offered a terse "no comment."
At least one of the 10 people accountant Andrea Rayfus of Clinton Township works for Ferguson Enterprises Inc., a construction firm owned by convicted felon and close Kilpatrick buddy Bobby Ferguson, who's currently serving a 10-month sentence for pistol-whipping a former employee. Ferguson's various businesses do millions of dollars of work for the city.
Asked about her $3,400 contribution, Rayfus told us she had "no idea" what we were talking about.
"That's a real strange set of contribution records," says Rich Robinson, head of the Lansing-based political watchdog group Michigan Campaign Finance Network. "It raises the suspicion in my mind that someone is trying to get around the contribution limit. If you want to give an excess amount, you give through friends and relatives."
But that's illegal. Laundering campaign contributions is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
As we looked into the whole thing further, we came across a Detroit Free Press article from April reporting that the secretary of state's office had ordered Kilpatrick's campaign to refund $45,200 to contributors allegedly connected to city casino interests. State law prohibits anyone financially linked to Detroit's three casinos from giving to state or local pols.
It's worth noting that illegal campaign contributions linked to casino interests are a felony that carry a potential penalty of 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine.
Imagine our surprise at seeing all 10 people from our list show up in the Freep story. But that only created more questions namely, how were these people connected to casino money?
Unfortunately, we can't give you an answer to that query.
The administration didn't return phone calls seeking comment. And when we asked attorney William Phillips, general counsel to Kilpatrick's re-election campaign, how a Wendy's cashier could be connected to a casino, he said he had asked the secretary of state's office the same thing but received no answer. (He also couldn't explain why someone would write four different checks on the same day.)
We, too, asked the secretary of state's office about the casino connection, but didn't get much of a response.
"We believe there are ties, and we're asking the campaign committee to explain them," says elections bureau spokesperson Kelly Chesney.
She referred all other questions to the state's Gaming Control Board, which isn't saying anything.
The campaign committee has until May 19 to provide documentation on the checks it received.News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at 313-202-8004 or NewsHits@metrotimes.com