The Detroit News

Time’s up in ex-Romulus mayor probe despite new evidence

- BY GEORGE HUNTER

— Michigan State Police recently received new evidence in connection with an 11-year-old corruption investigat­ion that, according to public records, focused on former Romulus Mayor Alan Lambert, but the probe was not reopened because the statute of limitation­s on possible criminal charges expired.

Lambert, a retired Romulus cop who served as the city’s mayor from 2001-13 and is seeking to regain the seat in November, has never been charged with a crime. State police raided his home in 2013, and he said soon afterward he would complete his third term but forgo a reelection bid.

State police investigat­ed Lambert from 2010-15 and sought misconduct in office charges, according to a state police report and warrant request obtained by The Detroit News. Wayne County prosecutor­s, after conducting their own twoyear investigat­ion, denied that request in 2017, citing a lack of evidence.

The probe focused on allegation­s that Lambert forced business owners to pay for political favors and purchase tickets to fundraiser­s as well as questions about a money trail involving a

Florida real estate transactio­n, the report shows.

State detectives’ interest in the dormant Lambert investigat­ion was rekindled in May, when Romulus Mayor LeRoy Burcroff ’s chief of staff, Julie Wojtylko, submitted to state police records of checks written to Lambert’s campaign that she claims he never reported. Wojtylko was Lambert’s administra­tive assistant while he was mayor.

Burcroff is not seeking reelection. Lambert, who is running against Robert McCraight in November, denied any wrongdoing during a telephone interview.

“If that stuff was true, I would’ve been charged with something, but they didn’t have the evidence,” Lambert said. “You’re talking about stuff from 11 years ago.”

The investigat­ion into Lambert was tangential to the state’s case against Michael St. Andre, whom Lambert hired as police chief in 2010, according to the report. St. Andre in 2014 was sentenced to five to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to embezzling more than $100,000 in drug forfeiture funds and running a criminal enterprise.

Others, including St. Andre’s wife, Sandra Vlaz-St. Andre, and five Romulus police officers also were convicted in the scheme.

The investigat­ive report that state police submitted to prosecutor­s in 2015 included what detectives said was the transcript of a recording of Lambert vowing to “hammer” Subi Saad, then-owner of the Landing Strip adult club on Goddard Road, if Saad didn’t increase annual payments to Lambert from $5,000 to $10,000.

Saad did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.

Saad and his brother told state police in 2012 that since they first met Lambert in 2009, the family had paid the former mayor between $60,000 and $80,000 to make sure there were no legal problems in connection with how they ran the strip club, the report said.

Lambert laughed when asked about the recording and said: “It’s a bunch of bull----. That’s not my voice saying that, I guarantee you that right now. I don’t know who’s feeding you this s---, dude, but it’s not true.”

When told the informatio­n came from the state police report,

Lambert’s campaign manager Robert McLachlan, who participat­ed in the phone call, added: “The police report contains 300 pages of baseless allegation­s made from former disgruntle­d employees. None of it is true.”

McLachlan later sent an email saying: “We have no desire to revisit the baseless allegation­s that Mr. Lambert faced 10 years ago. That investigat­ion yielded zero evidence, which is why there were never any charges brought against him.”

The report also details how on March 25, 2013 — hours before state police raided Lambert’s home — the mayor accepted $2,000 in marked bills from Mohamad Bazzi, owner of the former A&A Oil Change on Goddard Road, who cooperated with the state police probe.

When state police detectives confronted Lambert shortly after he took possession of the money, and shone a fluorescen­t light on his hands, the green “thief detection powder” the bills had been coated with was revealed, according to the report. Lambert admitted to taking the money but said it was for a loan, the report said.

Bazzi, who was not accused of wrongdoing in the report, declined to comment.

How new evidence surfaced

Detectives interviewe­d Wojtylko in 2011 about notary work she’d done for a Lambert staffer. But she said they never asked her about campaign checks they were trying to track down in 2014, even though she was in charge of logging Lambert’s campaign funds while he was mayor.

Wojtylko said if detectives had talked to her about those checks, she would’ve provided informatio­n about the unreported funds that were used in a Florida real

estate transactio­n that detectives were unable to track down. She gave that informatio­n to state police in May.

“They couldn’t find that money because (Lambert) never reported it, but I have the proof,” Wojtylko said.

In her letter to state police, Wojtylko said she was given a copy of the state police report when she became chief of staff for Burcroff in 2016. She said she glanced at the 356-page document but never read it closely until Lambert announced he was running for mayor again.

“When I looked closer at the report, I saw that I had some of the informatio­n the state police were looking for,” she told The News.

State Police Lt. Mike Shaw said investigat­ors from his office looked at the informatio­n and contacted other agencies about it, but never wrote up a formal warrant request seeking charges because the statute of limitation­s had expired.

“The investigat­or called an assistant prosecutor, and they said they couldn’t take the case because they refer election law cases to the attorney general,” Shaw said. “So, our investigat­or called an assistant attorney general and was told nothing could be done because it was past the statute of limitation­s. So there was never any need for a warrant request.”

The statute of limitation­s for election law violations and misconduct in office by public officials in Michigan is six years. Attorney General Dana Nessel last year endorsed a state House bill that would have extended the period to 10 years for misconduct in office, but the bill languished.

The recording and other evidence presented in the 2015 warrant

request weren’t enough to bring charges against Lambert, Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Maria Miller said.

After getting the state request, “we did an independen­t investigat­ion,” Miller said. “It was extensive and could not be completed quickly . ... The relevant evidence was presented, evaluated, and was determined to be legally insufficie­nt.”

Shaw declined to comment on prosecutor­s’ decision to deny the 2015 warrant request.

“We are finders of fact,” he said in a text message. “What happens with the prosecutor’s charging decision isn’t in our lane.”

‘We’ll just go hammer him’

The evidence presented to prosecutor­s included what state police detectives said in the report was a transcript of a May 2010 taped conversati­on between Lambert and Bazzi.

Bazzi provided state police with the audio, according to the report.

The report chronicles the man identified as Lambert and Bazzi discussing how to convince people to purchase tickets to his campaign fundraisin­g events. They also discussed illegal sex acts that allegedly were happening at the Landing Strip.

On the audio, according to the report, Bazzi claimed that Saad told him: “If I can’t (allow sex acts) that’s it, I better close and go away. (He said) we will have no business.

Bazzi added: “Just tell me to tell him ... everything (is) under control, nobody gonna see anything, nobody gonna watch anything, nobody gonna know anything.”

At one point while discussing Saad, Bazzi told Lambert to “jack it up to ten a year.”

“Well, what the f---?” Lambert said, according to the report. “It’s nothing compared to what the f--they’re gonna make over there.”

“... I mean, we got right now ... five G’s a year,” Bazzi says.

“...(Someone whose name is indecipher­able) gave me five grand, that’s f------ cool,” the man identified in the report as Lambert said. “... because (they’re) gonna go along.”

Bazzi replied: “I’m just gonna tell him, listen man, if you want this s--- (to) keep going man, (you’re) gonna pay ten G’s a year man, simple as that. You don’t wanna pay ten G’s, (Laughs) you don’t wanna pay ten G’s, man you on your own.”

“Yah if he says no, f--- him,

then we’ll just go hammer him,” Lambert said, according to state police.

“Simple as that,” Bazzi said. “One time we hammer him man, he’ll be f------ coming on his knees here, begging for mercy.”

The report says Lambert replied in a whisper: “Keep them f------ cops out (of ) there . ... police are staying out of there, but you’ve got to f------ cool it (with the sex acts), because people are calling the police, so you’ve got to relax. (You) don’t have to stop, you just f------ relax, just be more careful, just tell him to be more f-----careful.”

Bazzi answered: “I know ... and you’ve got to spend ten grand a year.”

“I know,” Lambert replied, the report said.

A Florida timeshare

In addition to providing the audio, Bazzi told detectives that in June 2010, Lambert sold a Florida timeshare for $35,000 to a relative of Saad’s, which was “just a method of covering up the cash payments from Subi to Mayor Lambert,” the report said.

“(Bazzi said) the timeshare deal was a method of making the cash payments look legitimate,” the report said. “He advised the cost of the timeshare was such that it would cover the $5,000.00- $10,000.00 ... payments from Subi to Mayor Lambert.”

During one of the detectives’ interviews with Lambert on Aug. 18, 2011, he “denied curtailing (the police) investigat­ion of the ‘Landing Strip.’ ... Lambert advised however he sold a Time Share property, in Sunset Cove (Fla.) to the owner Subi Saad in approx. June 2010 for (approximat­ely) $35,000,” the report said.

The timeshare was put in the name of one of Saad’s relatives, who “is listed as the owner of ‘Subi’s Place’ adult bar in Southgate,” the report said.

“Both locations are known to have had an undercover investigat­ion being conducted by the Romulus Police Department ... before, during and after this property sale.” The Romulus police investigat­ion into the strip club didn’t result in a prosecutio­n, according to the report, although the report claimed the bar was the site of “documented alleged prostituti­on between Jan 2010 and Jan. 2011.”

Detectives interviewe­d Subi Saad and his brother, Jason Saad, on Aug. 20, 2012. Three assistant Wayne County prosecutor­s and

the brothers’ attorney, Arthur Weiss, were present for the interview, along with two state police detectives, according to the report.

“Jason and Subi advised that since their first meeting ... with Mayor Lambert in approx. August or September 2009 ... they have paid the Mayor between $60,000.00 and $80,000.00 which they understood was to insure (sic) that they would not have any legal problems from the City of Romulus pertaining to their owning and/or running the Landing Strip,” the report said.

The Saad brothers also told detectives that Lambert “said to them he had a condo and they were going to buy it, and in exchange they would be left alone. They advised Lambert said this would cover the 4 years of (Lambert’s) current term in office at $10,000.00 per year.”

The brothers told police that another business owner “had advised them to give a gift to the Mayor,” after they first purchased the Landing Strip in early 2009 and that the business owner was present when they paid the mayor the initial $5,000 at Leonardo’s Italian Grille in Romulus.

“They advised they had the cash prepared in an envelope, and when the time came, (the business owner) kicked Subi under the table and Subi then placed the envelope in Mayor Lambert’s pocket,” the report said.

“(The Saads) advised the balance of the $60,000.00 to $80,000.00, $20,000.00$25,000.00 was paid directly in cash they had on hand, and/or in Checks,” the report said. “... the Mayor wanted 10 separate checks for $500.00 written out in other people’s names for fundraiser tickets.”

The brothers provided the names of six people who wrote some of the $500 checks. The report shows state police couldn’t find the checks in Lambert’s campaign records — but that’s because those contributi­ons were never reported, Wojtylko told state police in May.

“I had (records of the checks) all along,” said Wojtylko, who provided state police with a readonly file from the city’s server that included the check numbers, amounts and the same names the Saad brothers had said wrote the checks. She provided the same informatio­n to The News.

 ??  ?? Lambert
Lambert
 ?? Clarence Tabb Jr. / The Detroit News ?? This is the home of former Romulus Mayor Alan Lambert on Aug. 22, 2021, in Romulus. In 2013 the house was raided by state police.
Clarence Tabb Jr. / The Detroit News This is the home of former Romulus Mayor Alan Lambert on Aug. 22, 2021, in Romulus. In 2013 the house was raided by state police.

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