Saturday, October 7, 2017

Newly released emails show Ypsilanti mayor misled public about China trip's funding

Posted By on Sat, Oct 7, 2017 at 10:19 AM

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More evidence has surfaced that suggests Ypsilanti Mayor Amanda Edmonds knew more about the funding source of her and three other city officials' recent trip to China than she initially admitted.

Emails released
 on Friday by Ypsilanti City Attorney John Barr include messages that show Edmonds was informed on Sept. 12 that a developer doing business with the city was paying for the travelers' costs. However, Edmonds claims in a statement included in the email packet that she never saw the message until she returned from the trip.

Another email exchange shows that the plane tickets and itineraries for the trip were emailed to city officials by the developer.

And statements included in the email packet — which were released as part of the city's investigation into the scandal — show definitively that Edmonds misled the public about the trip's funding source in an Oct. 6 public statement on the matter.

Barr stated on multiple occasions since May 24 that it would be "unethical and illegal under city code" for the developer, Troy-based Amy Xue Foster, to pay for the trip. Foster is proposing a $300 million mixed use development for city-owned land near downtown Ypsilanti that would largely house Chinese students.

City officials who traveled to China from Sept. 21 to Oct. 2 led other city officials, city council members, and the public to believe that the Wayne State University Chinese Student and Scholar Association funded the trip.

A Metro Times investigation into the funding source published on Sept. 27 found that to be untrue. In response to Metro Times' questions, the city's economic director, Beth Ernat, who traveled with Edmonds to China, claimed that the Chinese Consulate in Chicago really paid for the trip. That represented officials' first story change.

On Thursday, Oct. 5, a media representative from the Chinese Consulate in Chicago sent the Metro Times a statement denying any involvement in the trip. Then on Friday afternoon, Edmonds made her first public statement since the Metro Times Sept. 27 report.

In that statement, she admitted that the funding source was not the CSSA, as she previously allowed officials and the public to believe. Edmonds wrote that she knew before the trip that the Chinese Consulate in Chicago funded the trip. That represented officials' second change in the story.

But that version also is not true.

The emails released by Barr in a document on the city website include an exchange between Edmonds and a member of the CSSA named Peifeng Li on Sept. 10 and Sept. 12. In it, Edmonds refers to the CSSA's funding of the four trips as "scholarships."

In the Sept. 10 message, Edmonds asked Li, "Where do the funds for the WSU CSSA come from? And specifically, where do the funds for the scholarships come from? As public officials this is always important for us to know and be able to share."

On Sept. 12, Li replied, "It's worth noting that the funds for these 'scholarships' are mainly funds from a company called Global Capital Group LLC based out of Michigan."

Global Capital Group LLC is one of developer Xue Foster's companies, as multiple documents provided to city council this year show. That includes an email dated July 6 circulated to Edmonds, Ernat, and other city officials. In it, Xue Foster uses an email address of amyfoster@globalcapitalgroup.org. She also ends the email with Global Capital Group listed as her company, including its address and phone number.

Beyond that, a thread included in the packet of emails posted to the city's website shows an exchange in which Xue Foster provides the tickets for the trip to Ernat, the city's economic development director.

A Sept. 5 email that includes the tickets goes from "Chou Shanrong" shanrongc@yahoo.com to "amy amy" amy1688@gmail.com. Chou Shanrong is the president of Young's Travel in Troy, which booked the trip. A May 24 email shows the "amy amy" address belongs to Amy Xue Foster of Global Capital Group.

Xue Foster then sent the tickets in an email to Ernat on Sept. 10.

The following day, Ernat sends out a memo to all of city council stating that the CSSA is paying for the trip. Edmonds received a message from Peifeng Li on Sept. 12 that showed the CSSA did not pay for it. It stated that developer Xue Foster's Global Capital Group was funding the trip.

On Sept. 13, Edmonds sent an email to Jennifer Healy — an employee in Barr's office — in which she states that she hasn't received a response to her query to the CSSA about the funding source.

Edmonds claims in a statement included in the email packet that she never saw Li's message until Oct. 3, after she returned from the trip.

Regardless of whether that's true, she also says in a statement in the email packet that Ernat told her during the trip that the funding came from Xue Foster. That means Edmonds misled the public in her Oct. 6 statement in which she states that the funding came from the Chinese Consulate. She mentions nothing about her knowledge of the money originating from developers in the Oct. 6 statement.

Ypsilanti City Council will question Edmonds and other officials involved with the trip during a special hearing on Tuesday, Oct. 10. The Council is launching its own investigation into the scandal, and is planning to hire an independent law firm to investigate.

Mayor pro-tem Nicole Brown and police chief Tony DeGiusti also went on the trip, which costed $16,800.

Find the Metro Times' investigation into the funding source and the full backstory here.

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