Mayor Dave Bing’s administration knew for at least a month that an illegal metal theft operation at the Packard Plant was exposing east-side residents to asbestos and other dangers and did nothing about it.
Last week, Bing’s office and the police department told us they were oblivious to a large backhoe and dozens of scrappers who have been aggressively tearing apart the asbesto-laden Packard over the past three months.
Turns out, city attorneys were making sure the backhoe and other high-powered equipment didn’t belong to Packard owner Dominic Cristini about a month ago. After finding out Cristini was not involved, the city did nothing to stop the increasingly brazen scrappers from demolishing a block-long building and tearing apart the sides of other structures that are believed to be packed with hazards.
Demolishing those buildings without an environmental cleanup and other precautions endanger hundreds, if not thousands, of residents who live nearby, the Department of Environmental Quality told us.
“They just wanted to make sure I wasn’t doing anything there,” Cristini told me. “They don’t care about the scrappers who are destroying the buildings. They don’t care about any of that.”
Merle Robinson said he’s furious the city refused to protect him, his niece and his neighbors from the constant dust that settles on their property from demolition and scrapping.
Even after offering Bing officials evidence of the scrapping ring, they denied any buildings were being torn down.
“After hearing reports that demolition was taking place at the Packard Plant, we investigated, but concluded that no demolition activities are occurring,” Raymond Scott, Deputy Director of the City’s Buildings, Safety Engineering & Environmental Department, told us.
That same day, the backhoe crossed Mt. Elliot and entered the cavernous Packard to tear more of it apart. For the past week, we’ve watched the thieves and the backhoe peck away at the buildings as photographers, graffiti artists and urban explorers casually walked past. Scrappers drove pickups into the buildings to provide power to welding equipment to break up the metal.
Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.