JUNE 18, 2009
A prominent Detroit city councilwoman who is married to the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee is on the verge of being indicted for accepting bribes from a developer who this week pleaded guilty to bribing her.
Councilwoman Monica Conyers, wife of the famed Michigan Democrat (John Conyers) who chairs the House committee that oversees the U.S. Attorney’s office and the FBI, is deeply embroiled in a City Hall corruption scheme that prosecutors say involves cash bribes delivered in fast-food parking lots. In fact, the FBI revealed last summer that it has electronic surveillance evidence of Conyers taking bribes.
Councilwoman Conyers was reportedly paid thousands of dollars to switch her vote on a multi million-dollar contract, approved in 2007, to haul and treat the city’s sewage sludge. The developer who pleaded guilty in federal court this week to paying Conyers more than $6,000 in bribes admitted using a courier on four separate occasions to deliver the cash.
Conyers initially opposed the sludge contract but voted in favor of it after accepting payments from the company, according to federal investigators, who are also probing several other council members involved in the scandal. This type of fraud and corruption is par for the course in Detroit City Hall, which has seen a mayor, former city council members and even a police chief indicted, arrested or imprisoned in the last few years.
Conyers, who could face up to five years in prison, is perhaps the city’s highest profile politician embroiled in scandal because her husband is a prominent congressman who has represented the state in the House for more than four decades.
A few years ago the congressman was involved in a scandal of his own when he illegally forced congressional staffers to be personal servants and work on several state and local campaigns. The aides were required to babysit Conyers’ two young boys, chauffeur them to personal events and help his wife with her law school courses.
Incredibly, after a three-year investigation the House Ethics Committee took no action against Conyers, declaring that the lawmaker “accepted responsibility” for a series of House rules violations involving the abuse of his staffers. The ethics committee’s top Republican and Democratic members justified the panel’s inaction by declaring that Conyers acknowledged a “lack of clarity” in communicating what was expected of his official staff.
Monica Conyers is certain to face a tougher punishment, however. Based on the evidence presented so far, the local newspaper has already called for her resignation. In an editorial published today the Detroit Free Press writes that Conyers needs to resign her council seat immediately, out of respect for the voters whose trust she stands accused of violating. Step aside, for the good of the city, and the cause of public integrity, the piece suggests.
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