News Hits has been reading with interest a debate raging on the DetroitYes! forum regarding WXYZ-TV (Channel 7) investigative reporter Steve Wilson. Wilson is no stranger to controversy, but the report that Wilson may be hit with felony charges has his critics practically wetting their pants they're so excited.
News Hits has no great love for Wilson, but even his detractors should admit he does some kick-ass work. Remember the Lincoln Navigator story, and the botched attempts by Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's administration to initially deny that the mayor's wife was riding in style on the public dime? That was just one of Wilson's scoops.
The recent flare-up started when WXYZ aired a Wilson story revealing that Kilpatrick, his family and a babysitter vacationed at an exclusive southern California spa last August, with the Kilpatrick Civic Fund, a nonprofit charity founded by the mayor, paying the lion's share of a $10,000 hotel tab. Officials at the fund which is run by Kilpatrick's sister, Ayanna Kilpatrick, and has Christine Beatty, the mayor's chief of staff, as its treasurer claimed the mayor was out West trying to raise money for the charity.
That explanation would carry considerably more weight if they offered any proof, but they didn't.
Then, last week, came this twist: According to a story by David Josar in the Detroit News, authorities in the San Diego Prosecutor's Office are now trying to decide whether to charge Wilson with a felony for allegedly tricking hotel employees into believing he was the mayor to get copies of billing records and a canceled check.
Critics of Wilson were quickly jumping all over him on the DetroitYes! forum. To them, Wilson, who retains a home in Florida, is a carpetbagger out to bring down the Kwamster, no matter what it takes. Wilson, who denies he did anything illegal or unethical, says he's just doing his job.
We don't know if Wilson broke the law, and will watch with interest to see whether he's charged with "false personation," a felony that carries a maximum five-year prison sentence.
But we have to chuckle at the vehemence with which Kilpatrick supporters are going after Wilson, claiming gleefully that the rotund reporter really put his balls in a vise this time.
Let's put things in perspective.
There was a Free Press report last week that didn't produce nearly the uproar Josar generated with his piece about the investigation of Wilson. But we think people should take the time to check out the June 13 story written by Zachary Gorchow and David Ashenfelter, who let readers in on the latest involving Jon Rutherford, operator of Metro Emergency Services, a nonprofit homeless shelter based in Highland Park. According to the Freep, Rutherford is facing "multiple counts of conspiracy, tax evasion, failing to pay tax to the IRS, making false statements to the IRS, and impeding its investigation of the case." The Freep also reported that the mayor's father, Bernard Kilpatrick, and two others with close ties to the mayor, were identified in IRS records as allegedly playing a role in seeing that at least $750,000 in funds intended for Rutherford's homeless program ended up being used for political purposes.
What does all this have to do with the Kilpatrcik Civic Fund? In 2000, Rutherford reportedly contributed $50,000 to the mayor's charity. Soon afterward, Kilpatrick recommended that Rutherford's nonprofit receive a $22.7 million contract from the Detroit-Wayne County Community Mental Health Agency. According to the Freep, it was the disclosure of those transactions that initially prompted the IRS investigation of Rutherford.
Wilson's report raises new questions about what, exactly, is going on at the Kilpatrick Civic Fund, which was supposedly created to educate residents about voting, support crime prevention and economic empowerment, and improve social welfare in the city. It was a report that was aired despite a threatening letter from Kwame Kilpatrick's lawyer, who warned the station's management that they were about to broadcast "falsehoods," and if they put the story on the air they'd be doing so at "your own peril."
For having the nerve to go with the report, Wilson and WXYZ get a high-five from the News Hits crew. And now we have two controversies. One involves a pit bull reporter who may or may not have crossed the line to get a story. But he did get the story, and before anyone pops Champagne corks at the prospect of the messenger taking a hit, we should keep the question raised by Wilson's investigation front and center: Is the mayor using a nonprofit charity as his personal slush fund?News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]