By ZEINAB NAJM
DEARBORN – A federal corruption investigation into Wayne County government that cleared former County Executive Robert Ficano Feb. 9 also cleared one of his top aides, a Dearborn resident.
Ficano, former Deputy Wayne County Executive Azzam Elder of Dearborn, and former Chief Development officer Turkia Awada Mullin, whose $200,000 severance deal in 2011 eventually upended the Ficano administration, will not face charges in the more than three-year probe.
Elder received a strong “clearance letter” absolving him of any wrongdoing.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced the decision in a news release through the office of U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan Barbara McQuade.
McQuade took the time to thank everyone for their help in the investigation.
“I would like to thank and commend the officials and staff of the Wayne County Executive and the Wayne County Corporation Counsel for their cooperation during this investigation,” McQuade said in the news release. “Their assistance and openness allowed federal investigators to carefully review and assess a number of complex issues regarding the operation of county government.”
The investigation led to the conviction of five county officials.
“As a former prosecutor, and advocate against public corruption, I am glad the FBI thoroughly investigated and I am very grateful they have gone the extra step to formally clear my name leaving no doubt,” Elder said.
Elder was under investigation for alleged corruption in connection during his time with Wayne County.
He was sent a letter by McQuade on Feb. 9 stating, “based on the evidence we have reviewed, we have not identified violations of federal law involving you, and therefore, we do not intend to bring charges against you in connection with the investigation.”
Elder was relieved the investigation had reached an end.
“Today’s announcement comes as no surprise, but I am grateful to finally close this chapter,” he said. “I was fully transparent during this investigation and today’s comments by U.S. Attorney McQuade, thanking and commending certain officials, recognizes my transparency.
“The damage inflicted on my family and my reputation throughout this or deal has been immeasurable. I can only hope that after 16 years as a public servant with an unblemished record, that we all learn something from this.”
Former Taylor Mayor Cameron Priebe, who has known Elder for more than 10 years and has talked to him frequently over the past three-and-a-half years said, in a PRNewswire release, “He knew he’d be cleared because obviously he knows he’s innocent. The untold story should be how Wayne County fell apart after he left his job as deputy.
“Elder had a promising career, everyone knew it. God knows how hard he works, and how effective he was at getting things done. The taxpayers will never know how costly it was after he was pushed out. Those who know Azzam and worked with him agree that he is a person with high integrity, extremely intelligent, and cares about people. I am happy this is finally behind him.”
In the same release, Detroit attorney Gerald Evelyn said, “I can confirm three things today. One, in over 30 years of practicing law in the Federal System, this ‘clearance letter’ given to Azzam Elder by the federal government is very rare, but justified.
“Second, after leaving no stone unturned, this ‘clearance letter’ proves that federal investigators feel confident that Azzam Elder had done nothing wrong or inappropriate. And, third, this “letter” is a strong indicator that they recognize the unfair impact the investigation has had on him on a personal and professional level.”
“For Azzam, this wasn’t about his job, it was about his character”, said Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Margie Braxton who has known Elder for more than 15 years, going back to the days when he was her courtroom prosecutor.
“He was one of the most outstanding courtroom prosecutor’s I’ve ever had in my courtroom and he was a highly respected chief prosecutor for Wayne County. Azzam to this day has lasting respect and admiration from Judges, defense attorneys, and prosecutors. He is a man with high integrity.”
Elder is currently in private practice as an attorney, and as CEO of Halo-Bloom, a business consulting firm in Dearborn
The five others prosecuted in the Wayne County probe were former Assistant Wayne County Executive Michael Grundy, former Chief Information Officer Tahir Kazmi, former Wayne County appointee Zayd Allebban and a former Deputy Chief Information Officer David Edwards, and a former county contractor Keith Griffin.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected].)