The Boji Man Will Get You if You Don't Watch Out
Ron Boji, the front man for the proposed State Data Center located right here in Mason County, just north of the pumped storage reservoir, seems to be either a confidence-man or just a barefaced liar. But this will be brought up in detail at the end of this article, there is a lot more that needs to be said about this deal-maker and his group. The Ludington Torch has made the local area aware that the Boji Group does not seem to be a very ethical group in this past piece some-data-behind-the-new-data-center-proposed-by-the-boji-group. Most of the dirt on this company and its principals were dug up by impressive investigative reports made by Detroit-area news outlet WXYZ's Ross Jones and Fox 2 News' Charlie Le Duff. From the former in a recent June 6, 2013 article:
Nader Fakhouri, Ron Boji's brother-in-law, looks to have made some money off real estate deals made with State funds, which the State is wanting back. Lansing developer Ron Boji’s company benefited from more than $1.5 million in federal funds to develop the sprawling Inkster Marketplace along Michigan Avenue.
In a December letter, HUD officials asked the county to return $850,000 in grant money because of Boji’s strong ties to then Assistant County CEO Nader Fakhouri.
Fakhouri, who is Boji’s brother-in-law, received a 20% stake in the building Boji was paid to construct. The Wayne County Commission, which had to sign off on the project, didn’t know about Fakhouri’s stake in the building either.
“We’ve never received any paperwork that shows Nader Fakhouri had an interest in this,” Commissioner Kevin McNamara said.
“It would have raised a huge red flag.”
HUD issued their own red flag, deeming it a “conflict of interest” and saying Fakhouri was “…in a position to potentially influence funding…” that went to him and his family.
Let's remember, that when Nader Fakhouri resigned in disgrace from his public job, he was quickly hired by the Boji Group, and given a bio that glosses over his past public official foibles or any mention that he wound up taking the Fifth to shield some of his involvements. As further pointed out by WXYZ's Ross Jones:
This would reflect a culture of corruption embraced by Nader Fakhouri, a principle of the Boji Group and brother-in-law to Ron Boji. E-mails from 2011 and before show how he expected county vendors to write large checks to County Chief Executive Ficano’s campaign war chest.
In an e-mail Fakhouri sent to another appointee in 2009, he writes about “preliminary numbers” for what he thinks county vendors should give to Ficano’s campaign fund:
-$25,000 each from Secure 24, AT&T, Open Text, Strategic Business Partners and Strategic Staffing Solutions
-$15,000 from CATS Co.
-$10,000 from Sync Technologies, ASG Renaissance and CISCO
-and $5,000 from Peter Chang Enterprises and Optech
It’s not clear if all those vendors were solicited, but several of them later gave to Ficano’s PAC. A vendor not wishing to be identified said: “It’s disgusting that they’re going after vendors like that…I just don’t think it’s proper.”
Campaign finance expert Rich Robinson says when vendors are leaned on for contributions, it’s common for them to factor that cost into their next county bid.
"It's a world where there is corruption of dependence," Robinson said.
"You end up with kind of a political tax rolled into it, because I don’t think the vendor says, well, we’ll squeeze this out of our profits this year," he said.
Other e-mails show that campaign work is often required of appointees. In one from last May sent by JoAnn Abdenour, Fakhouri’s fundraising deputy, she ordered department heads to attend a meeting for the upcoming Ficano Gala, a campaign fundraiser at Ford Field.
Sweet Deals Vended Without Bid
The Boji Group's influence in Wayne County extends even into relatively minor contracts that public officials decide to issue to them without any competitive bids this year. This is particularly cocky when the feds have a grand jury looking into the involvement of the Boji Group with past deals
Wayne County commissioners unanimously rejected a no-bid contract extension Thursday for a company connected with the corruption probe of county government.
Sheriff Benny Napoleon sought a two-year extension worth $78,692 for United Custom Distribution, part of the Boji Group. The contract was to provide Kit Kats, M&Ms and other candies and snacks to the commissary at the Wayne County Jail, which resells them to inmates.
The Boji Group was one of 14 companies named in grand jury subpoenas in October 2011 as part of a federal probe of corruption in county government. The subpoenas were issued to Wayne County seeking all communications with the Boji Group.
The Wayne County Sheriff's Office proposed a two-year extension, but the public safety committee asked to reduce it to a one-year deal.
"I'd rather see it bid out," Commissioner Ilona Varga, D-Lincoln Park, said at the committee hearing last month.
Suzanne Hall, director of administration for the Sheriff's Office, told the committee at the time: "We don't really care who the vendor is; we just want the product."
The contract, first approved in 2009, went to Motor City Distributors, a St. Clair Shores company that the Boji Group acquired later, according to a county commission analysis. When the contract was proposed again Thursday as a two-year deal, commissioners followed Varga's recommendation and rejected it.
Hall said Thursday that the department hopes to bring back the contract later this month as a one-year deal.
The Boji family, which runs the Boji Group, has been active in county politics for years. Nader Fakhouri, an assistant county executive who served as County Executive Robert Ficano's top political money man before leaving county government last year, is married to the former Janeen Boji.
Her brother, Ron Boji, has hosted Ficano fund-raisers at his West Bloomfield home and contributed to Napoleon.
The Boji Group has not been accused of any wrongdoing."
You'll notice in the comments that courageous Councilor Varga says: "I did research and this was not even a contract, it was a purchase order from 2009. Need I say more? The Sheriff was not at our meeting, but the director who works for him was there. The document request originated and signed off by the Sheriff department. Let's remember that the Commission's documents are public records that people can examine for facts. I am sure the Commissary had started the request back in 2009 and last year - it was over 190 days late - and never thought that it would be a problem. Nothing personal, just bad process. Commissary is under the Sheriff's budget even though they act independently. Must have been a misunderstanding between staff. John Wisely did get it right actually, and I just had to respond about the misrepresentation statement mentioned in the comments by a staff person."
The Con-Man at the End of This Story
At the beginning of this article, I stated that Ron Boji, not his brother-in-law or business, was a confidence man and/or someone who is telling us a big fib. Either that or the Managing Editor of the City of Ludington Daily News (COLDNews), Steve Begnoche, printed something that was totally fictitious, which seems unlikely in the context.
In this July 27, 2013 COLDNews article discussing a revisit to the area by Ron Boji to explain the disposition of the proposed project, it has him making the following claim, after giving out quite a bit of information on the five other competitors :
Having done my own share of FOIA requests, it seemed unlikely that the MEDC would be so free with divulging the bulk of the information he alluded to with someone, especially someone who is vying for the prize. So, being that MEDC is mostly publicly-funded and capable of being FOIA-requested, I sent my own request seeking any such FOIA request made by Ron Boji concerning the proposed State Data Center on July 28, and received the following on July 31, telling me that no such record existed: 2013.07.31 Denial Letter.pdf.
Since they seemed to paraphrase my original request to leave out other options, I resubmitted an 'amended' FOIA request asking: "Has there been any FOIA Requests from any representative of the Boji Group or any other 'persons' inquiring about the various proposals for the new State of Michigan Data Center? If so, please send those written requests (not the content of the request) via electronic files to this E-mail address. If not, please send me a denial." And earlier today, they did:
This suggests that Mr. Boji did not get his information from the proper channels, as nobody is on record for doing a FOIA request to get that information. As noted in the prior article, Ron Boji was appointed to the 11 member Michigan Strategic Fund (MSF) Board in January 2013 by Governor Snyder, the MSF and the MEDC have the following relationship (noted here):
The Michigan Strategic Fund (MSF) was created under P.A. 270 of 1984 as an autonomous entity to assist in promoting economic development in the State. The MSF's authority was expanded by Executive Order 1999-1, which transferred into the Fund all the State-funded economic development programs and created it as a State agency. These agreements provided for the formation of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), which is also an autonomous entity. The MSF transfers the majority of its appropriated State funds and employees to the MEDC.
Ergo, the MSF Board which Ron Boji has been appointed to as a public servant bankrolls and mostly mans the MEDC, which is handling the proposals at this time before the Governor gets their report and a decision is made, and will likely fund the eventual project at least in part (with MSF dollars). Yet, somehow Mr. Boji has got information about other proposals from the MEDC without benefit of a FOIA request through their FOIA Coordinator, in direct conflict in what he said, as reported in the July 27 newspaper article.
All of this interweaving of pecuniary (money) interests of Ron Boji (as he stands to benefit greatly if the data center is placed here) and the appearance of some insider knowledge passed along to him by the agency his agency funds should raise a red flag. One could infer that he is attempting to use his or her position as a member of the board to influence a decision regarding a loan, grant, investment, or other expenditure under this act to his business, a misconduct in office as per MCL 125.2006(3), or just as a conflict of interest (section 4,5 of the same law).
Furthermore, he could be perceived as falling short in the following subsections of Standards of Conduct for Public Officials:
5) A public officer or employee shall not engage in a business transaction in which the public officer or employee may profit from his or her official position or authority or benefit financially from confidential information which the public officer or employee has obtained or may obtain by reason of that position or authority.
7) A public officer or employee shall not participate in the negotiation or execution of contracts, making of loans, granting of subsidies, fixing of rates, issuance of permits or certificates, or other regulation or supervision relating to a business entity in which the public officer or employee has a financial or personal interest.
Somehow, Ron Boji has gotten information regarding his competitors without benefit of a FOIA request and is using that information to better his chances at receiving state funding indirectly from money that he has some control over doling out. He has apparently lied at a public forum about how he got the information, some of which sounds confidential and/or from an inside source.
When we add that to all the questionable history of the Boji Group in Wayne County and his fellow Boji Group frontman and brother-in-law Nader Fakhouri, the ongoing investigations, a lot of red flags emerge. Our county leaders and their business partnerships would love to get this data center here, and they undoubtedly would bend over backwards in their efforts to do so. But should we deal with a man and a company ran by this man who cannot only tell us of his own pecuniary stake in the data center or the truth about how he got his information? Or do we trust in glibness, while the county coffers are raided to encourage this partnership Mr. Boji envisions?
Epilogue: A Couple of Calls for Public Accountability
Let me append this article by saying that personally, I think the data center proposed would be a benefit to the area's economy, and see nothing wrong with it if all the public officials involved with this public project play according to the rules and according to the benefits of the public, and if public and private interests are separated like we would have us separate the church and the State. That isn't likely going to happen with all the talk of partnerships and the appearance of improprieties we see just on this proposal's veneer.
But there are other arguments put against this data center by those who would be directly affected by the project, dealing with the problems that won't generally be aired at one of these Ron Boji evangelicals, such as these raised by Constance Anderson a few months back in the Daily News Reader's Opinions piece, which was downplayed by the editors in a less than convincing way in an Editor's note thereafter.
Excellent article X.
No big surprise here, Ron Boji announced in a letter made public to the local newspaper that the State Data Center will not go in near the Pump Storage Facility, and actually it won't go anywhere. He said the following in his letter (which keeps things general enough to make you go "Sure thing, buddy.", but makes our 'economic development' crowd legs tingle):
"Over the course of this past year we have worked extensively with an ever increasing local and regional support coalition of elected officials, governmental units, area organizations and the business community to build support for our efforts to win selection by the State of Michigan for a new State Data Center that would be located adjacent to the Ludington Pumped Storage Plant, the Great Lakes Technology Park (GLTP).
The depth and breadth of that support has been remarkable and for that we want to express our sincere thanks. We are writing today to inform you about the latest developments in the State process and to explain what we believe it will mean for the GLTP project.
The State of Michigan has informed Data Center project bidders within the last few days that they are formally withdrawing the Request For Proposal (RFP) for the Data Center. Initially this was disappointing news for our GLTP team and no doubt for all of our supporters also.
However, we have received some additional information regarding future State intentions, and secondly we have begun investigating the potential to move forward with the GLTP project independent of the State.
As a result, we remain committed to the effort and want to update you on the rest of the story.
First, while the State has indicated it does not currently plan to pursue a new base Data Center site in the immediate future, they have indicated a desire to move forward with a secondary disaster recovery site in the near term and emphasized the desire to locate that resource some distance from their existing facilities in the Lansing area.
We believe the Ludington site will meet the State’s criteria. More importantly, our GLTP team has heard from the business and economic development audience we engaged with during the past year that the need for a technology center in West Michigan that could serve a wide variety of business and e-commerce needs is real and growing.
While we will continue to pursue the potential State development, it is this latter market that perhaps offers the greatest potential and on which we are now focusing our efforts.
As we work to retool our approach and objectives it is too soon to say exactly how we might proceed, but we can assure you that this change in direction by the State does not in any way diminish the attributes that won our support for the Ludington site to begin with and continues to have us believing it is the right place and this is the right time for the GLTP project. Not least among those attributes is the local and regional support that we alluded to above. We will continue to need your strong and enthusiastic support."