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Detroit Riverfront Conservancy receives $35 million following embezzlement scheme

Former Detroit Riverfront Conservancy CFO charged with embezzling
Former Detroit Riverfront Conservancy CFO charged with embezzling 00:31

(CBS DETROIT) - The Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan announced it is granting $35 million to the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy to help complete revitalization projects after the organization's former CFO was accused of embezzlement.

The money will support contractors and fundraising to finish the full 5.5 miles of east and west riverfront projects, which include Ralph Wilson Park, Uniroyal Promenade and Robert Valade Park, according to a news release.

"The Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan is committed to making our region a desirable place to live, work and play. That's why we must complete the Detroit riverfront," said Richard DeVore, president of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan. "We are encouraged by how the philanthropic community is stepping up during this critically important time."

The funding comes after former CFO William A. Smith was charged with bank and wire fraud. Federal investigators said Smith allegedly embezzled nearly $40 million from the conservancy over a years-long scheme. The charges followed an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

To support the conservancy, the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation committed $10 million of the $35 million, with the Community Foundation authorizing $25 million of credit. Officials said the line of credit would reduce as the funding from the embezzlement scheme is restored. Officials said if the endowed funds are utilized, the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation will offer additional grants "to enable the Community Foundation to continue to make community grants from those funds, while dollars continue to be raised."

Construction for the remaining projects will begin in the fall of 2025.

"Completing the revitalization of Detroit's riverfront has been the Conservancy's mission from day one," said Matt Cullen, board chair of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy. "We are grateful to the Community Foundation, the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation, and other philanthropic partners who believe in this vision and whose support has made our goal of building an accessible, beautiful, and exciting international riverfront a reality."

In 2023, the conservancy celebrated the opening of the Southwest Greenway, which will be a part of the 27.5-mile Joe Louis Greenway.

The greenway connects the riverfront to Michigan Central and surrounding neighborhoods, like Dearborn, Hamtramck and Highland Park.

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