DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – A one-person grand jury has been convened to investigate whether any criminal activity is involved in the over-budget Wayne County Jail project.
County Circuit Court Judge Timothy Kenny on Wednesday also banned the release of an auditor general’s investigation of the construction project.
Kenny’s order came after a petition filed by Prosecutor Kym Worthy. Among other things, the petition says Worthy’s investigation will focus on neglect of duty, conspiracy, fraud and misconduct.
So, why a one-person grand jury?
“The idea here is that a one person grand jury can subpoena witnesses, they can collect evidence, they can decide whether or not there should be criminal charges,” said WWJ Legal Analyst Charlie Langton. “But the best thing for a grand jury, it’s all done in secret and it’s completely legal.”
Langton said everything is kept so under wraps, we might never know who that grand juror is.
“The idea here is they’ll conduct an investigation in secret, that witnesses will be more likely to cooperate as to whether or not there was a conspiracy fraud or some misconduct,” he said.
The 2,000-bed facility on the northeastern edge of downtown Detroit is only partially finished. It was $91 million over its $220 million construction budget in June. County commissioners in August voted to cancel the construction contracts. Since then, allegations of possible fraud in the project have emerged.
“The one-person grand jury only decides whether or not there’s enough evidence that a crime has been committed. Ultimately, a jury will decide if the criminal activity goes beyond a reasonable doubt,” Langton said.
Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano’s office said Wednesday in a statement that it would cooperate with the one-person grand jury.
Touting the project last fall, Ficano said the new jail was expected to save the county $20 million a year, when it opened in 2014, consolidating three county jail facilities. But Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon expressed concerns that it wouldn’t be big enough.
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