October 30, 2014

FBI Raids Main Branch of the Detroit Public Library Looking for Financial Records

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FBI agents raided the Detroit Public Library on November 20, FBI Detroit office Public Affairs Specialist Simon Shaykhet told LJ. “I can confirm we were out there but I can’t go into any details.”

U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan Public Information Officer Gina Balaya also declined to answer LJ’s questions about what, or who, the agents were investigating, saying “the search warrant affidavit is currently under seal and will remain sealed for the time being.” (Atiim J. Funchess, assistant director for marketing of the Detroit Public Library, also refused to comment.)

However, The Detroit News reported that agents spent much of their time in the offices of Tim Cromer, the library’s chief administrative officer, and that on the same day, agents raided Cromer’s home.

LaMar Lemmons, president of the Detroit Board of Education and ex officio member of the library commission, declined to name names, but he told LJ that even before the FBI raid, the library was looking into potential infractions. “Certain commissioners, as well as the executive director, had noted some potential illegalities and improprieties, and they were conducting an internal investigation,” Lemmons said. “I guess the FBI found it of interest, and so they are going through the communication of certain individuals.”

“There may be an individual who awarded contracts for personal gain. And if that is the case, it is a total violation of the public trust,” Jonathan Kinloch, president of the library commission, told the Detroit Free Press. Kimloch refused to name the individual to the Free Press, but the Detroit News quoted him as saying “there have been a number of allegations over the years surrounding Tim Cromer and the executive team.”

The News reported that the FBI is investigated kickback allegations involving a company hired to update the library’s computer systems for several million dollars. The no-bid contract led the commission to reform procurement policies and fire the company (ultimately paying about $150,000 to settle a breach-of-contract lawsuit as a result.)

The Library Commission, which had originally been scheduled to meet on the day of the raid, postponed their meeting till the following day and began with a closed session, presumably to address this issue. However, at press time, the Commission had not yet released any word on the library’s response.

This is far from the first problem to plague the Detroit library system in recent years. Earlier this year Director Mondowney was placed on leave, but eventually returned to work after a tussle for control of the library board which included members avoiding meetings to prevent a quorum, votes taken without one, and even an ultimately unsuccessful attempt by the emergency manager to replace Lemmons on the board. Mondowney, Cromer, and deputy director Juliet Machie are all currently employed at will, their contracts having expired and not yet been renewed.

Detroit also closed four branches late last year, after a series of financial woes that included a controversial renovation and then a fiscal crisis, which was eventually found to be based on mistaken information.–Meredith Schwartz, News Editor of Library Journal

More from Gary Price, editor of INFOdocket.com:

According to WXYZ-TV the FBI has executed a search warrant at the library and removed material in boxes along with computers.

The Detroit Free Press reports that special agents were searching for financial records.

In recent years, the library has been embroiled in a controversy over alleged misspending even as it has struggled with a $10 million budget deficit and what officials called an unprecedented fiscal crisis. Last year, the library system closed two of its 23 branches and cut its staff by 20%, or 83 employees.

A library official, who spoke to the Free Press on the condition of anonymity, said library director JoAnn Mondowney was placed on administrative leave last May but was later allowed to return to work without a contract. Two other top officials, deputy director Juliet Machie and chief administrative officer Tim Cromer, also are continuing to work even though their contracts expired earlier this year, the official said.

The Free Press adds that there have been questions about the cost of a renovation at the library.

The Detroit News says that the FBI spent a lof of time in the office of the library’s chief administrative officer, Tim Cromer. A raid also took place today at Cromer’s home.

The raid follows money problems that forced the system to close two branches and lay off 80 of 364 staffers — and persistent questions about spending. In a series last year, The Detroit News exposed allegations of misspending, mismanagement and nepotism.

Among other purchases that were questioned, the library bought 20 lounge chairs for $1,100 apiece at a time it was cutting staff.

At one point last year, officials considered closing 18 of 23 branches until The News reported they were basing their cuts on faulty revenue estimates. Cromer was responsible for those estimates.

Here’s a Brief Video from WXYZ.

share save 171 16 FBI Raids Main Branch of the Detroit Public Library Looking for Financial Records
Gary Price About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.