Clarification: Bill Hults says the transformer his crew was trying to remove from a roof was not attached to a live wire. Hults now says he is appealing his taxes “due to the vacant nature of the properties.”
When Chicago-area investor Bill Hults was in line to buy the abandoned Packard Plant in October, he quietly purchased 17 nearby properties in Wayne County’s tax-foreclosure auction.
Now he is illegally scavenging one of his largest commercial buildings, and he owes more than $29,000 in delinquent taxes and fines for the remaining properties he purchased, a Motor City Muckraker investigation has found.
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When one of our photographers approached the scrappers to inquire about the illegal operation, they tried to run him over with a truck. They also chased away a reporter and nearby resident.
Hults, who moved into a home in the suburbs, hasn’t returned our calls for comment.
Police responded to just one of our four calls in the past month and even spotted scrappers on the roof trying to use a torch to remove a transformer from the roof. When police left, scrappers continued tearing apart the building.
Without police to worry about, the scrappers brought in a hydraulic lift with torches. They’ve been so careless that the fire department was called at least twice in the past two weeks to extinguish an unattended fire.
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At one point, the scavengers removed so much scrap metal that they needed a U-Haul and semi-truck to haul it off.
When told about the scrapping Monday, Mayor Mike Duggan’s administration pledged swift action.
“Building and Safety will be sending an inspector over to the property,” mayoral spokeswoman Linda Vinyard said. “If in fact he is scraping at the level in which you describe, he would be in violation of city ordinances.”
Hults’ actions raise questions about his intentions with the Packard, which he had the opportunity to buy for $2 million in November as the second-highest bidder after the winning bidder bailed out.
But Hults never produced the money, so the third-highest bidder, Peru-based developer Fernando Palazuelo, bought the sprawling Packard for $405,000.
But that hasn’t stopped Hults from trying to buy the Packard Plant from Palazuelo for $5.6 million.
“I told him, ‘Thank you, but I am not interested,'” Palazuelo told me, saying he still has big plans to redevelop the 40-acre plant. “We want to do something very real with this site.”
According to county records, Hults hasn’t paid a penny of property taxes. He’s also done nothing to clean up his properties, many of which are homes.
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Most of those houses are open to trespass, and the yards are strewn with garbage.
“It’s disgusting,” neighbor Ron Mitchell told me. “Why would you buy houses to let them rot? People live here.”
6 p.m. update: Mayoral spokesman John Roach said he would provide an update Wednesday.
What kind of action do you think the city should take?
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.
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