The FBI, a bigger fish, swims into Ficano's world

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In this week’s News Hits column, we provided an overview of the scandal that erupted when Wayne county Executive Bob Ficano’s administration provided Turkia Mullin a parting gift worth more than $224,000 when she quit her job as the county’s economic development director to become CEO of the Wayne County Airport Authority.

In that piece we talked about the media sharks circling Ficano, and the bites that they were taking. Today we learn that an organization with even more fearsome dentition has entered the picture: the FBI.

Channel 7, which broke the original story that set of a sort of feeding frenzy, reported yesterday that the feds have entered the picture. The dailies, which have done a good job following up and breaking some new ground, are also reporting that the FBI is investigating — although the bureau itself will neither confirm nor deny an investigation is under way.

“In addition to referring the case through the Prosecuting Attorneys Association, we did also refer and talk to the FBI in Detroit. And today they announced they will indeed take on the investigation, in the Mullin situation. So that case will now be in their hands, and we have absolute faith in their ability to do such an investigation,” Attorney General spokesman John Sellek told Channel 7.

"I welcome the opportunity to clear up the misinformation that has been out in the media for weeks and put this issue to rest once and for all," Ficano said in a statement Tuesday. "My administration and I will cooperate fully and expect to be fully exonerated."

In addition to Mullin’s generous “severance” package, questions are also being raised about Edge Opportunities, a nonprofit funded by local businesses — at least some of which have county contracts  — to spur economic growth.

Mullin had previously admitted to receiving a $75,000 payment from the nonprofit while making $200,000 a year as the county’s economic development director.

Today, in The Detroit News, this fascinating twist is being reported:

“The nonprofit is registered to Mullin's sister's house in Birmingham, according to state and IRS records,” the paper’s Christine MacDonald and Karen Bouffard report. “The sister, Mariam Awada, bought the house in 2006 for nearly $2.5 million from Kathleen M. Harrington, the wife of Patrick Harrington, according to county and city records.

“Records show Patrick Harrington is an imprisoned mortgage broker who was involved in two gas station sales that led to Mullin being sued for legal malpractice while she was in private practice. Mullin settled one lawsuit, and in another a jury found she was professionally negligent but owed no damages. She wasn't charged and didn't face professional sanctions.

“Mullin lived at the home after her divorce, but no longer resides there, her attorney Michael Sullivan said in an e-mail. Sullivan said of Awada's purchase of the home: ‘If it was Mr. Harrington's wife, that is a mere coincidence.’"

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