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Detroit Building Inspectors Admit To Accepting Bribes

building bribes
Delos Matthews, left, and Phil Lockhart (credit: Michigan Attorney General's Office)

LANSING (WWJ) - They lined their own pockets while endangering Detroiters. Two city inspectors have been sentenced after they pleaded guilty to accepting bribes.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette on Tuesday announced that Phil Lockhart, 57, of Detroit, and Delos Matthews, 54, of Farmington Hills — both City of Detroit building and electrical inspectors  — admitted to looking the other way when construction projects endangered public and when the proper building permits were not obtained.

Lockhart and Matthews, late last year, each pleaded guilty to one count of employee accepting a bribe before Wayne County 36th District Court Judge Kevin Robbins.

Judge Robbins this week sentenced Taylor to two years probation serving the first 120 days on tethered house arrest and 25 hours community service. Mathews was sentenced to two years probation and 40 hours of community service.

According to the Attorney General's Office, Lockart accepted a $300 cash bribe to ignore the Detroit's permit requirement for a residential construction project performed by a contractor. Schuette said Matthews accepted a $200 cash bribe to approve electric circuits in a rental property that did not meet electrical code and ignore other electrical code violations, creating a potential fire risk for future tenants.

The case originated from an investigation by the FBI-Led Detroit Area Public Corruption Task Force in collaboration with the Michigan Attorney General's Public Integrity Unit.

"Public corruption at any level will not be tolerated. Public employees who are in charge of the community's welfare must be held to a higher standard and when those employees jeopardize the safety of Detroiters for their own personal gain then they must suffer the consequences," said Detroit Police Chief James Craig, in a media release. "The bribery convictions of the city of Detroit Inspectors should be an example that crime in the city of Detroit does not pay."

The Detroit Building Safety Engineering and Environmental Department is the city department responsible for inspecting and certifying that residential and commercial buildings meet ordinances and the building code. Its mission is to provide for the "safety, health, welfare and improvement of quality of life of the general public relative to buildings and their environments in an efficient, cost effective, user-friendly and professional manner."

Criminal cases remain pending against five current and former Detroit Building Safety Engineering and Environmental Department inspectors Schuette charged in August 2013 for allegedly accepting bribes in exchange for ignoring their duty to enforce city building, zoning, electrical, and plumbing codes.

Schuette filed felony bribery charges against current and former inspectors Eric Miller, 50, of Detroit, John Jones, 54, of Detroit, Bob Watson, 52, of Dearborn, and Kenneth Russ, 53, of Detroit, and Moreno Taylor, 53, of Livonia.

From 2008 to 2013 a Detroit Area Public Corruption Task Force investigation revealed instances of several city inspectors alleged to have frequently solicited, accepted, and, in some cases demanded bribes from local contractors and property owners. Rather than issuing citations, investigators found corrupt inspectors allegedly asked to be "taken care of" and then looked the other way when they received a cash bribe.

It is alleged the bribes range from approximately $200 to $3,000. Further investigation revealed some inspectors solicited and accepted bribes in exchange for disregarding building violations more than 50 times.

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